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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Test May Predict Spread of Early Breast Cancer

Rare Tumor Cells Found in Blood May Predict Aggressive Disease, Even When Breast Cancer Is Caught Early

A Useful Tool for the Future continued...

Other experts agree.

"What it means is that we can identify those individuals quite early on who might have a decreased survival based on a simple blood test," says Justin Stebbing, MD, PhD, a surgical oncologist at Imperial College London in England. Stebbing wrote a commentary on the study but was not involved in the research.

The test used in the study is called CellSearch. Doctors use it to judge how well patients with late-stage colorectal, breast, or prostate cancers are doing on their treatments.

It costs $500 to $600 each time it's performed, and it isn't always covered by health insurance.

"Circulating tumor cell tests are not cheap, but they give us a lot of information about the future," Stebbing says.

What's less clear, he says, is how to use the test in patients who are in earlier stages of disease.

"What that information doesn't tell us is what to do. Do we treat these patients more aggressively? Do we turn to targeted therapies that focus on the circulating tumor cell pool? We don't yet know," Stebbing says. "We don't know if eradicating [circulating tumor cells] kills cancer."

Lucci agrees that it's too early to recommend the test for early-stage patients.

"We don't know if treating patients with additional therapies or different therapies will change the outcome," he says. "That's the next step."

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