Following standard therapy for early breast #cancer, women undergo tests and scans to ensure that no detectable cancer remains. Thereafter, these patients continue to undergo periodic screening on a regular basis, with greater frequency during the period immediately following completion of treatment. These screenings are to detect a potential recurrence in its earliest stages, at which time treatment provides optimal chances for a cure.
Currently, standard clinical methods for the detection of recurrences are not able to detect small amounts of cancer cells. It is these undetectable cells that can lead to recurrences. Healthcare providers continue to explore novel ways in which to predict which patients are at a higher risk of developing a recurrence so that treatment can be individualized and tailored towards a cure.
Among women who are at a high risk of developing a cancer recurrence, achieving maximum cure rates might require a more aggressive therapeutic approach than for those who are at a lower risk for developing a recurrence. This is due to the fact that among women who are at a low risk of experiencing a recurrence, more aggressive therapy has the potential to cause serious risks from side effects without achieving a survival benefit.
Cancer cells tend to release some segments of their DNA into a patient’s circulating blood. This DNA is referred to as ctDNA, which often harbors specific mutations. Through novel laboratory methods, ctDNA is identified in the blood even when other standard clinical tests do not possess the capabilities of detecting such small quantities of cancer.
A blood test that can detect circulating DNA from cancer cells appears to accurately predict the risk of a breast cancer recurrence 8 months earlier than standard detection methods among women with high-risk breast cancer. However, further study is necessary to confirm these findings and understand their benefit in a clinical setting. These results were recently published in the journal Science Translation.