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Simple blood test predicts recurrence of breast cancer
December 21, 2017, 5:10 pm

A simple blood test that detects tumor cells circulating in the blood shows promise as a new way to predict high or low risk of a breast cancer relapse, finds a new proof-of-concept study by the US-based ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group.

The researchers measured the prevalence of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in blood samples from patients cancer-free five years or more after diagnosis, and then associated CTC presence with a later recurrence.

Late recurrence five or more years after surgery accounts for at least one-half of recurrences of breast cancer, and currently there are no tests that identify who are at highest risk. The study found that in women who were cancer-free five years after diagnosis, about five percent had a positive CTC test. More importantly, they also found that a positive test was associated with a 35 percent recurrence risk after two years, compared with only two percent for those with a negative CTC test.

The concept study aimed to explore the use of the CTC blood test in a new way. Currently, the test is FDA-approved for use by physicians to monitor response to treatment in patients with advanced breast, colon or prostate cancer, but not early stage cancer. A rise in the number of circulating tumor cells in the blood in patients with advanced disease may indicate trouble before it shows up on a scan. In this study, the research team evaluated this test in a different setting — individuals alive and cancer-free about five years after their diagnosis and potentially cured, but still at risk for having a recurrence of their disease.

The research group said their ultimate goal was to use similar blood tests to tailor treatment in a way that minimizes recurrence risk for those at high risk, and spare treatment for those at low risk who may be unlikely to benefit from it. The findings of this analysis provide strong evidence to further evaluate this new risk assessment approach using CTC and other blood-based tests in this setting.

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