Predict Risk of Breast Cancer Relapse with a Simple Blood Test
Node Smith, ND
Blood Testing for Breast Cancer Recurrence
At the recent 40th annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, a blood test that could determine the risk of breast cancer recurrence was discussed.1 The proof-of-concept study was conducted by the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group and measured the prevalence of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the blood of individuals who had been cancer-free at least 5 years post-diagnosis. The CTC levels were then associated with later cancer recurrence.
Late recurrence of breast cancer is common, and has been estimated to account for roughly half of recurrences of breast cancer. Late recurrence being defined as recurrence 5 years or later after surgery. Currently there is no test for identifying individuals who may be at higher risk.
The blood test being studied is nothing new. CTCs are used to monitor response to treatment in individuals with advanced breast cancer, as well as colon and prostate cancer. Increases in CTCs in the blood in patients with advanced disease can indicate a problem before it can be seen by a scan. However, the test has not been utilized in the early stage of cancer development. The study in question looks at using this same CTC blood test in individuals’ cancer free after 5 years and potentially “cured,” who may still be at risk for recurrence.
The test was conducted on a single blood sample from 547 breast cancer patients, all of which had been diagnosed at least 5 years previously, and treated as part of a large treatment trial. The group all had either stage two or three, HER2-negative breast cancer. The results found that a positive CTC blood test was associated with a 35 percent higher recurrence risk after 2 years, compared with only 2 percent with a negative test.
The test isn’t being advocated for screening just yet, however further research is planned.
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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.