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expert reaction to blood test to help tailor treatment for breast cancer patients

Research, published in Science Translational Medicine, reports on a new blood test that may be much more sensitive than previous tests for monitoring the early stages of breast cancer. 


Prof Justin Stebbing, NIHR Research Professor of Cancer Medicine and Medical Oncology, Imperial College London, said:

“This is high quality science where DNA from cancer can be detected in the blood and here they look at specific mutations, and also the amount of circulating tumour DNA, detectable in a tube of blood.  What’s really interesting is they can detect this circulating tumour DNA during treatment for early-stage breast cancer when it is potentially curable, not just when it’s spread.

“It’s important to note this is a blood test designed for women already diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer – not a blood test for everyone – and is used to help tailor the best treatment for these breast cancer patients.

“In the clinic both over and under-treatment of patients with early stage cancer remains a challenge in cancer medicine as we don’t always know how much therapy to give, or when to stop it.  These results suggest that blood-based residual disease testing during treatment can further help individualise the choice and extent of treatment, so we don’t for example end up using more chemotherapy than we should, which could simply have too many side effects without real benefits in some.

“This is a small study looking at only 33 women so it’s still preliminary for such a common disease.  We still need to do larger studies in more patients to be sure how well this will work, but the hope is that blood tests for tumour DNA may one day be used instead of biopsies of cancers to monitor patients more quickly and reliably and with better results.  That looks like a pretty realistic prospect in the not too distant future, and not over confidence.”


‘Personalized circulating tumor DNA analysis to detect residual disease after neoadjuvant therapy in breast cancer’ by Bradon R. McDonald et al. was published in Science Translational Medicine at 19:00 UK time on Wednesday 7 August 2019. 


Declared interests

None received.


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