Patients with advanced breast cancer who have more than five circulating tumor cells in the blood may have a more dangerous form of the disease, according to a study published in the Aug. 19 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.
The pivotal study could lead to more tailored treatments that would spare some women from the most potent chemotherapy, or, conversely, recognize which patients need more aggressive therapy at the start of treatment, says the study's lead author Massimo Cristofanilli, M.D., associate professor in The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center's Department of Breast Medical Oncology.
"This is the first time that we can actually stratify metastatic breast cancer patients based on their risk," says Cristofanilli.
"When a physician assesses a woman with metastatic breast cancer, it is very difficult to make an accurate prediction of her prognosis. Now we may know more about what the prognosis will be, based on a simple blood test and a new technology. One day we may be able to suggest to a patient - based on personal risk - a more aggressive treatment, a less aggressive treatment, or no treatment at all."
Metastasis is the most life-threatening aspect of cancer, says Cristofanilli. To metastasize, cancer cells must leave the site of the primary tumor, travel through the blood and proliferate in a new site. Until recently, doctors have not been able to reliably isolate circulating tumor cells in the blood. Within the last few years, several methods have been developed to label tumor cells with antibodies that can then be measured precisely, identifying even one tumor cell in a vial of blood, wrote Science Daily.
But these early efforts are also driving long-term hopes that such a test might some day lead to a blood screening program that could catch cancer in its earliest stages.
At Toronto's Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre, for example, researchers are already testing the blood of women with a genetic risk of breast cancer who have no sign of the disease.
"If this can be applied to patients with early breast cancer then you can intervene early and have the potential to cure it or really prolong survival," said Maureen Trudeau, Sunnybrook's head of medical oncology and hematology and co-author of the research published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, informs Globe and Mail.
According to BBC News, Dr Michelle Barclay from Breakthrough Breast Cancer said: "This is a small but interesting study and we look forward to seeing the results of further research on a larger scale. "Predicting a patient's prognosis plays an important role in ensuring they receive the most appropriate treatment.
"Information about the aggressiveness of a woman's breast cancer will help to determine the best treatment options available."
But she cautioned: "This research is at an early stage and determining prognosis at this level will not be generally available for some time."
Read earlier news stories by PRAVDA.Ru