Skip to content

Breast Cancer Health Center

Test May Help Guide Treatment of Early Breast Tumors

Genetic Test Predicts Risk of Cancer Coming Back if Radiation Is Skipped
Font Size
A
A
A
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 7, 2011 -- A test that categorizes very early breast cancers by their genetic fingerprint can tell a woman the likelihood that cancer may come back if she does not have radiation, researchers say.

More than 45,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with this early form of breast cancer, called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), each year. The tumors are confined to the milk ducts, meaning they have not invaded the rest of the breast.

The researchers’ hope is that the test, which looks at the activity of a dozen genes from such noninvasive breast cancers, will help women with DCIS avoid unnecessary radiation.

"Until now, we haven’t had a good way to predict which individual [noninvasive] tumors will recur," either as a new DCIS or, worse, as an invasive cancer, says researcher Lawrence Solin, MD, chairman of radiation oncology at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia.

Solin presented the findings here at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Genomic Health, which makes the test and funded the research, hopes to launch it within a few weeks.

About Half Develop Invasive Cancer

About half of women with DCIS will develop invasive cancer over the next few decades if nothing is done, according to Benjamin D. Smith, MD, of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Smith, who specializes in radiation treatment for women with breast cancer, was not involved with the work.

As a result, these women are usually treated as though they have more advanced cancers -- typically with lumpectomy, followed by radiation of the breast, and sometimes hormonal drugs, he tells WebMD.

Compared with surgery alone, radiation reduces the risk of recurrence by 50% to 60%, Smith says.

But radiation is not without side effects. It can cause skin inflammation and make you tired. And over the long term, it can damage heart and lung tissue.

All this points to a need for a test that can guide a discussion on whether radiation treatment can be safely skipped, Solin tells WebMD.

Test Predicts Breast Cancer Recurrence Risk

The new study involved 327 women with DCIS who had been treated with lumpectomy, but not radiation, as part of a previous clinical trial. Over the next decade, 26 developed invasive cancer in the same breast.

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
 
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
 
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
VIDEO
Resolved To Quit Smoking
SLIDESHOW
 
Woman getting mammogram
Article
Screening Tests for Women
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
serious woman
Article
 
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 

WebMD Special Sections