Predicting whether breast cancer will recur may one day be as simple as a blood test, thanks to pioneering research led by Joseph A. Sparano, M.D., presented today at the 40th annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS). With $375,000 in funding from Susan G. Komen, the largest nonprofit funder of breast cancer research (outside of the U.S. government), and other financial support, Dr. Sparano and team at the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group found that the presence of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) five years after diagnosis was a strong indicator of whether a patient would experience a breast cancer recurrence.
“These are the moments we cherish at Komen – when one of our researchers makes a discovery that has the potential to change the field and to save lives,” said Komen President and CEO Paula Schneider. “This could be a much-needed tool in our arsenal to take on breast cancer – especially recurrence.”
ECOG-ACRIN researchers analyzed blood samples provided by patients with various stages of breast cancer (all HER2-negative type) who were recurrence-free at 4.5-7.5 years after diagnosis. The data found that small amounts of CTCs (eight or more cells in 7.5 mL of blood) were associated with a significant risk of recurrence, regardless of breast cancer stage. The study also found that recurrence was unlikely in patients whose blood showed no detectable CTCs.
“The results of our study provide proof of concept that a blood-based biomarker test can identify breast cancer survivors who are at high risk for disease recurrence five years after their diagnosis, and also identify those who may be at very low risk”, said Dr. Sparano, Vice Chair of the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group, and Professor of Medicine & Women’s Health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center in New York.” Our ultimate goal is to use blood tests like this to tailor treatment in a way that minimizes recurrence risk for those at high risk, and spare treatment for those at low risk who may be unlikely to benefit from it”
Further research is needed to validate these findings, and determine how CTCs could be used to predict risk of late recurrence and/or inform treatment decisions. Still, the implications are far-reaching, according to leaders in the field. Komen Chief Scientific Advisor and co-author on the study, Dr. George Sledge, said of the findings, “Early detection of recurrence opens new opportunities for treatment. This Komen-sponsored research should lead, in the near future, to trials aimed at preventing late recurrence of breast cancer, an important task for the breast cancer research community.”
Dr. Sparano is one of more than 1900 Komen-funded researchers around the globe working to save lives and end breast cancer. Investing in breast cancer research has been a priority for Komen since opening its doors in 1982, with more than $956 million invested to date. Read more about Komen’s research investment.