Lifewatch: Cancer personalities

Reported by Claire Hosmann - email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

(WECT) - Thanks to the latest research, women will have more options when it comes to battling breast cancer.

By identifying specific personalities of the cancer, doctors hope to eliminate some of the most aggressive, and sometimes unnecessary, forms of treatment.

"I think I was okay with the surgery because I understood that -- that is something that I was familiar with," said patient Kathy Carlson.  "But the chemo scared me to death."

Carlson is on a new generation drug for breast cancer and is also going through chemotherapy.  She's had surgery and may have to undergo radiation as well.  The treatment is effective and her prognosis is good.

Oncologists have been searching for a way to identify the specific personalities of breast cancer so patients like Carlson won't have to go through more than they actually need.

"We found subsets of patients with tumors that are so benign that they just have to have the tumor surgically removed and they'll do fine even without any additional treatment," said researcher Dr. Philip Bernard.

The new test goes beyond the traditional staining of the sample.  Pathologists extract nucleic acid from the cells to identify 50 specific genetic characteristics of the cancer.

The new test is a much more complete portrait of the cancer and where it is going, if anywhere.

"Our test showed that we could predict with 97% accuracy those patients that will not respond to standard chemotherapy," said Bernard.

In some cases the test identifies a subset of women who can be cured without getting any treatment at all, other than the original lumpectomy.

Research took ten years to complete and involved collaboration with several research groups.

The test will be available later this summer.