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Finger prick blood test to personalise chemotherapy doses

University of Newcastle Professor

Jennifer Martin

Many breast cancer patients need to take chemotherapy drugs for a long period of time, such as tamoxifen which is usually prescribed for five years.

To achieve the best results from chemotherapy it’s necessary to correctly balance the level of the drug in the body by changing the dose on later cycles. Patients need sufficiently high enough doses to kill their breast cancer cells but not too high that they are unable to cope with the harsh side-effects.

However, each person will take to chemotherapy differently based on factors such as body size, age, other drugs and foods they are taking and how hard their kidney and liver work hard to flush foreign toxins. Current standard practice for measuring the correct dose doesn’t take all these factors into account, resulting in imprecise dosing for individual patients. Some may receive doses of chemo that are too toxic for their body, and some may receive too little to be effective.

A blood test can help determine the right dose; however going into the clinic for a blood test can be cumbersome and inconvenient for women with breast cancer. On a national scale drawing blood samples and transporting them around Australia to labs for analysis is logistically unfeasible for the health system.

NBCF is funding Professor Jennifer Martin’s project which aims to develop a new way of measuring the right dose for each person, which is similar to the finger prick blood test diabetics take several times a day to check their glucose levels.

This finger-prick blood sampling method could be done by health professionals who administer chemo at clinical facilities right across Australia, including remote and regional areas. The test would provide instant information on chemotherapy levels in the blood to assist in accurately tailoring the dose for each individual.

For patients already being treated, the test would also help determine if their dosage needs tweaking to get the best effect from the treatment while minimising side effects.

Achieving appropriate doses of chemotherapy in patients with breast cancer will contribute to improved management of breast cancer care, leading to better survival and better quality of life.

University of Newcastle Professor

Jennifer Martin