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Test to monitor changes in breast cancer over time under development

Posted December 1, 2014

A leading Leicester scientist is developing a new test that reads the DNA released from breast cancer cells into the blood, which will help doctors monitor how a patient’s breast cancer changes over time.

If breast cancer comes back or spreads to a new location, it can differ from the original tumour and subsequently treatments may not work as effectively. This means there is a need for new methods to be able to easily and safely monitor how the disease is evolving and responding to treatments.

Currently, a needle biopsy is needed to check whether a person’s tumour has changed. However, with support from a grant worth around £20,000 from research charity Breast Cancer Campaign, Dr David Guttery, based at The University of Leicester, is in the process of developing a less invasive method to do this, using a blood test.

Dr Guttery is designing a blood test tailored to read the code of the DNA released from breast cancer cells, called ‘cell-free DNA’ (cfDNA). Current cfDNA tests in development are designed to check for mutations in cfDNA from cancer patients, but Dr Guttery is creating the first of these blood tests especially tailored for breast cancer patients.

Katherine Woods, Research Communications Manager at Breast Cancer Campaign, says:

“The new blood test Dr Guttery is developing will help doctors monitor how a patient’s breast cancer changes over time, meaning patients can be given the most appropriate treatments for them.

“Tailoring treatments in this way could increase patients’ chances of survival, as well as their quality of life, bringing us one step closer to our goal that by 2030 what causes different tumours to grow and progress will be identified, enabling us to select the best treatment for every patient.”

In order to develop the test, Dr Guttery will use blood samples donated by people with advanced breast cancer, as well as breast cancer cells grown in the lab.

Leicestershire has a significantly higher incidence rate of breast cancer than the England average, with around 600 women in Leicestershire diagnosed with breast cancer each year on average, and almost 150 women dying from the disease each year on average.

Source: University of Leicester

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