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Breast Cancer Patient's Genetic Profile Guides Treatment Options

  • Vidushi Sinha

Testing for breast cancer

Testing for breast cancer

A new study finds that a breast cancer patient's genetic information can help doctors determine whether chemotherapy will be effective in combating this form of cancer, which annually kills millions of women worldwide. We have more on what experts are calling the "crystal ball" of breast cancer treatment.

Choosing between effective treatment and preventative surgery is a key decision in fighting off breast cancer. The new study concludes that genetic information on a cancer patient can confirm if chemotherapy is the best way to go. Genetic information is already widely used to help guide breast cancer care in terms of better prediction and prevention.

Sandra Cohen lived with great anxiety about getting breast cancer because her mother and grandmother died of the disease. But thanks to genetic testing, she and her doctor were able to make a decision to undergo preventative surgery. She says she feels much better now and recommends genetic testing to others with a similar medical history.

“Go out and get the information do some research with a genetic counselor, meet other women who have gone through it, and it really will empower you and give you the strength to take some action," said Cohen.

Now, scientists at Nuvera Biosciences, a private U.S. research company, say that a test they've developed can tell doctors whether or not standard chemotherapy treatment will improve a patient's chances of survival. If they can rule out chemo, they can quickly turn to alternative strategies.

The study looked at breast cancer treatment response and survival for women with newly diagnosed, invasive breast cancer. The data was based on tumor samples taken from 310 patients who were treated with two chemotherapy drugs.

Researchers say the patient's genetic information provided a reliable way to predict which tumor was really sensitive to chemotherapy and which tumor was resistant to chemo.

Dr. Charis Eng, who did not take part in the study, is a cancer researcher.

“Prediction is always a good thing, because when you can predict accurately, you can pre-empt," said Eng. "So, let’s say this 'crystal ball' says this person is not going to do well after standard treatment for early breast cancer. That would make their physicians much more vigilant, trying to catch things that come back very, very early or to even give very aggressive treatment.”

Researchers agree that this kind of testing can prevent patients from being treated with drugs that their bodies will not respond to and could lead to a more personalized medicine.

Experts say genetic testing also cuts health care costs and allows doctors to attack malignant tumors without losing precious time.

The study's authors say more research is needed, but they believe their finding adds to the arsenal in the fight against breast cancer.

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