Research in how to treat and cure cancer is constantly changing and developing. Lucky for us, we live in a time when scientific break throughs are happening all the time, meaning, for many, living with cancer is becoming more and more feasible. As is the chance to make a full recovery. And news of a highly sensitive new breast cancer blood test feels like another win in the fight against the condition.
According to a study published in Science Translational Medicine, the incredibly sensitive blood test could be a significant turning point in cancer research. This is because it is one of the first ever to successfully monitor patients suffering from breast cancer in its early stages. Not only that, but it is believed that the new test could be potentially up to 100 times more sensitive than the tests that already exist.
The research and development comes from the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), an affiliate of City of Hope, and the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, in collaboration with scientists at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. Together they have worked to develop this new method for tracking breast cancer. It is believed that this could, with time, help doctors be more accurate in their decisions surrounding breast cancer treatment. This could potentially lead to the prevention of unnecessary operations for some people with the disease, Cancer Research explains.
"Many people with early-stage breast cancer are treated with drugs to shrink the tumour, followed by surgery to remove any remaining cancer," Cancer Research writes. "However, for around 30% of these patients, no breast cancer cells are found when they go under the knife, as the earlier treatments were completely effective. Currently, doctors have no way of knowing which women could avoid this unnecessary, invasive procedure."
The test is called TARDIS (TArgeted DIgital Sequencing), and it works by looking "circulating tumour DNA," which are tiny fragments of DNA from cancer cells in the bloodstream. As Cancer Research reports, "This test could one day allow doctors to use blood samples to continuously monitor how well breast cancer treatments are working — allowing them to personalise each patient’s treatment plan."
Dr Muhammed Murtaz is the lead author of the study and co-director of TGen's Center for Noninvasive Diagnostics, the location where the test was developed. He spoke to Cancer Research UK about the importance of the test, saying:
"Until now, blood tests for breast cancer have only been sensitive enough to reliably identify tumour DNA in people with advanced disease. 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."
Professor Carlos Caldas, who is the director of the Breast Cancer Programme at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre and contributed to the study, said it is a "game changer':
"Finding cancer DNA in the blood is like looking for a needle in a haystack. But by developing a test that’s unique to each patient, and looking for mutations present across the entire tumour, we've made it much harder for the circulating tumour DNA to hide, significantly increasing the chance of identifying cancer relapses earlier."
So what next? Well, according to Cancer Research, the initial study involved a group of 33 women, the second involved 22 women. Now they hope to carry out a larger study involving over 200 people in order to make the efficacy of this test even more clear. After that, if all goes well, clinical trials will begin. The researchers hope that this test will help with the treatment of not only breast cancer, but with time a multitude of cancers.