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New genetic test for breast cancer to help avoid chemotherapy

Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and Queen Mary University of London have developed a new breast cancer test, dubbed as PAM50, to help women avoid unnecessary chemotherapy.

The new test will enable doctors to determine the status of cancer, thus making easy identification of women required to undergo the test, while letting others avoid unnecessary treatment.

Designed to process locally instead of being sent off to an American lab, the test successfully recognizes women with the highest risk of their breast cancer returning, with fewer women classed as at intermediate risk.

A study underlines that 50,000 women are diagnosed for breast cancer every year, out of which 80% cases are caused by oestrogen receptor positive (ER+) disease, which can be treated with hormone therapy, instead of chemotherapy.

Researchers assessed RNA in tissue samples taken from 940 patients with ER+ breast cancer in the study and compared the new PAM50 score.

The new PAM50 score analyses 50 genes linked with breast cancer, with the Oncotype DX test, and with a test called IHC4, which is developed by Breakthrough Breast Cancer..

Compared to both the Oncotype DX test and IHC4, the PAM50 test delivered more long-term predictive information for doctors, while being as effective as other tests in identifying women at low risk of their breast cancer recurring.

The Institute of Cancer Research biochemical endocrinology professor and The Royal Marsden biochemistry head Mitch Dowsett said that chemotherapy is often used after surgery to reduce the risk of a patient’s breast cancer from coming back.

"Our study found that the PAM50 test is more effective than other methods at providing the information to exclude breast cancer patients from unnecessary chemotherapy, and has the potential to be done more quickly," Dowsett added.