Advancements in breast cancer screening have increased cancer detection in patients previously not considered at risk for disease and have helped diagnose the disease at earlier stages. Breast cancer screening and early detection have been game changers for patients and their healthcare teams. Finding cancer early in patients opens up a variety of treatment options for both the initial and survivorship phases.
Researchers continue to push for progress in all aspects of screening, diagnosis and monitoring disease. Advances in our knowledge of breast cancer biology have led to the development of diagnostic methods that can help to tailor the treatment plan to specific types of breast cancer.
For example, anti-estrogen therapy is often used to treat breast cancers that test positive for estrogen receptor, whereas other types of breast cancer may be treated with anti-HER2 therapy based on identifying human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) gene amplification or over-expression (which results in too many copies of HER2 that causes abnormal cell growth) In addition, new genomic tests help physicians and patients understand their individual risk of relapse and likelihood of benefiting from specific treatments.
As our understanding of ER+ breast cancer increases, , it can be confusing and frustrating for both you and your healthcare teams to make sure you are utilizing all of the available diagnostic advancements for your cancer journey. To help you and your support team stay updated on the latest and greatest, we have included a short review of some of the current advancements to diagnose and monitor breast cancer:
Digital mammography is a recent advancement in imaging that provides a detailed view of test results via computers rather than film. Using electronic images to zoom in for more detail increases the diagnostic value of the images and reduces the need for follow-up scans due to unclear results that can occur with film. The National Cancer Institute further explains the technique in its mammogram fact sheet.
Digital breast tomosynthesis, or three-dimensional (3D) mammography, is the newest technique that takes images of breast layers to provide specific details throughout the breast cavity. Less pressure is applied during the procedure and there is the potential to use lower doses of x-rays than used in standard mammography imaging.
Diffuse optical imaging (DOI) is a technique currently being investigated that uses light rather than x-ray technology to capture breast images.
Similar to 3D mammography, 3D-guided biopsy is a less invasive advancement in surgical procedures that provides highly detailed results that can help provide valuable data for treatment decisions.
Molecular Diagnostic Tests
Breast cancer gene-expression profiling of cancer signatures, a type of biomarker, is the latest molecular diagnostic tool that helps patients and their healthcare teams make decisions on immediate intervention and long-term treatment plans for the disease.
These new genomic tests provide information to determine the likelihood of benefit from initial chemotherapy, extended anti-estrogen therapy, and help to determine the risk for cancer recurrence.
These genomic tests may be used at different phases of your treatment, including before the initial treatment or after five years of anti-estrogen therapy to provide information to help you and your healthcare team with therapeutic decision-making
Adjuvant Treatment Biomarker Tests – Assisting in the Decision Making Process
There are several molecular tests that provide information to help with your post-surgery treatment decisions, such as whether you are likely to benefit from adjuvant chemotherapy in your particular disease, or to help determine your risk of recurrence following your initial diagnosis. A few of these tests include:
A Biomarker Test to Help Decide on 5+ Years of Anti-Estrogen Treatment
When you are approaching your 5-year anniversary, there is another molecular test that may help you and your doctor decide whether you are likely to benefit from extending anti-estrogen therapy for an additional 5 years.
Breast Cancer Index focuses on this treatment decision for early stage estrogen-positive patients after 5 years of anti-estrogen therapy. Breast Cancer Index assesses your risk of distant cancer recurrence after five years, as well as your likelihood to benefit from continuing anti-estrogen therapy for an additional five years.
When it comes time to decide on this next step, talk to your doctor about how Breast Cancer Index may provide additional information to help with the decision to extend or end anti-estrogen therapy. For more information regarding Breast Cancer Index, please visit the Answers Beyond 5 website.
We hope this review of the most advanced breast cancer diagnostic tools will help you and your healthcare team choose the best options in identifying your disease and develop your treatment plan. Like Breast Cancer Index, these tools are new developments in the diagnostic field so you may plan an important role in updating your own healthcare team with this information.
Stay tuned for our next topic in the coming weeks: How to Pay for Breast Cancer Molecular Diagnostic Tests.