A new study has shown that signs of relapse in breast cancer patients could be detected sooner with a “mutation-tracking” blood test. Researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust found traces of returning breast cancer in patients eight months before doctors would normally have noticed.
The study involved 55 women who had been successfully treated for early-stage breast cancer. The test detected relapse early in 12 of the 15 women who relapsed. The other three patients all had cancer that had spread to the brain, where the protective blood-brain barrier could have stopped the fragments of the cancer entering the bloodstream. Cancerous DNA was also detected in one patient who had not relapsed.
In this trial, the blood tests were used to search for mutations common to various breast cancer types, but the test could be applied to all subtypes of the disease. The researchers are hopeful that it could be used to monitor any changes that suggest patients are at risk of relapse, so that if their cancer does return, it can be treated at the earliest stage possible.
“This test could help us stay a step ahead of cancer by monitoring the way it is changing and picking treatments that exploit the weakness of the particular tumour,” says Professor Paul Workman, chief executive at ICR.
This research is still at an early stage and there is still some way to go before these findings lead to a routine test. However, the study is a positive step towards finding a better way to deal with the risk of cancer relapse.
Study leader Dr Nicholas Turner says: “There are still challenges in implementing this technology, but the information that it provides could make a real difference to breast cancer patients.”
“It is really fantastic that we can get such a comprehensive insight about what is going on in the cancer all over the body without the need for invasive biopsies,” adds Professor Paul Workman. “Studies like this also give us a better understanding of how cancer changes to evade treatments – knowledge we can use when we are designing the new cancer drugs of the future.”