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Hopes rise over breast cancer test

31 October 2013 10:26

A new test could offer hope to women suffering from breast cancer

A new test could offer hope to women suffering from breast cancer

A new breast cancer test could lead to fresh hope for women suffering from the disease, according to scientists.

The test uses tumour samples to pinpoint seven different types of cancer, and could lead to more individually-tailored treatments for the disease - and it could be available within two years.

This process of identification of more biomarkers could help avoid over or under-treatment of cancer. At the moment, two proteins are involved in identifying cancer cells - the oestrogen receptor that makes a tumour hormone-sensitive, and HER2, which responds to the breast cancer drug Herceptin.

Researchers looked for biomarkers in 1,073 tumour samples in the Breast Cancer Campaign's tissue bank. A total of 93% of these fit perfectly into one of seven different individual classes. The remaining 7% were harder to identify owing to mixed characteristics.

More verification of the seven cancer types was then undertaken using a further 28 tumour samples. The seven classes in turn are defined by different combinations and levels of 10 proteins found in breast cancer cells - including the oestrogen receptor and HER2. These also include proteins not currently tested, including p53, cytokeratins, HER3 and HER4.

Scientists found that each of the cancer types has a different effect on patient survival. Lead researcher Dr Andy Green from Northampton University said the decision-making involved in terms of appropriate treatment for breast cancer sufferers is becoming more and more complicated - so the benefits of having more targeted, tailored treatments for patients is clear.

He added that it was "equally important" to develop parallel strategies which help reduce the risk of side effects and inappropriate treatments.

Breast Cancer Campaign chief executive, Baroness Delyth Morgan, said the days of "one size fits all" treatments are over, and she added: "We need to ensure the life-saving and life-extending treatments we already have in the clinic are used more effectively - directing the right treatments to those who will benefit, and sparing others from unnecessary side effects, so that by 2050 we can achieve our ambition to overcome breast cancer."

She added that the test could be a realistic step towards what she called the "holy grail" of personalised medicine - a welcome boost to the 50,000 women who are given a breast cancer diagnosis in the UK every year.

Women diagnosed with the disease who are planning on taking a holiday overseas are reminded of the importance of arranging specialist breast cancer travel insurance before jetting off.