Treating breast cancer can be an aggressive and exhausting ordeal for those suffering from the disease. Thankfully, a recent breakthrough in treatment options might help a lot of patients avoid needlessly going under the knife.
Researchers from the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) have developed a blood test that is 100 times more sensitive than options that currently exist. At the moment, breast cancer is usually treated with drugs to shrink the tumors, then patients undergo surgery to have any lingering cancer cells removed. According to a press release from TGen, in roughly 30 percent of these patients no remaining cancer cells are found — meaning they undergo the surgery and resulting recovery for no reason. Until now, there was no way for doctors to know whether or not the operation is necessary without going through with it.
The new blood test is known as TARDIS (unrelated to the show Doctor Who, it stands for TARgeted DIgitial Sequencing) and can be used to monitor even early stages of breast cancer. “Until now, blood tests for breast cancer have only been sensitive enough to reliably identify tumor DNA in people with advanced disease," explained Muhammed Murtaza, MD, the lead author of the study. "We’ve shown that TARDIS is able to detect circulating DNA at extremely low concentrations in the blood, opening up the possibility of monitoring patients with early-stage breast cancer to find out how their disease is responding to treatment.”
This initial study was small (22 women), but another study is already in the works with a larger pool of over 200 patients. And, it’s not just breast cancer that they hope to help with this discovery, but other types of cancer as well. “This could be a game-changer,” explains Professor Carlos Caldas, who contributed to the study. “Instead of patients undergoing six to eight cycles of chemotherapy (15-21 weeks of treatment), after one or two cycles (3-6 weeks) we would use the TARDIS test to look for a significant drop in circulating tumor DNA. If a drop was not detected, the treatment could be stopped or changed.” Considering how taxing all of those other rounds of treatment already are, being able to avoid surgery when you don’t actually need it would be a huge relief.
Here’s hoping everyone battling this devastating diagnoses are able to benefit from this groundbreaking development ASAP!