At the same time the discovery also opens the door on a new type of immunotherapy vaccine that could help prevent the recurrence of breast cancer in all women.
The discovery, say researchers, involves a certain type of immune system cell that is present at the site of the breast tumor. By analyzing these cells experts say they can decipher clues that accurately chart a roadmap of how a patient's body will respond after the cancer treatment is over.
"We know that the body initiates an immune response when it detects cancer, and immune system cells are usually present at the site of the tumor," says the study's lead researcher, Masoud Manjili, D.V.M., Ph.D. assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at VCU Massey.
But, by analyzing these immune cells in a particular way, Manjili says they can determine the overall “ "biological response to the presence of cancer,” which in turn helps predict who will suffer a relapse and who will not.
Currently the two tests used to predict breast cancer recurrence are the Oncotype DX panel and the MammaPrint panel. While they do work, both focus primarily on genes that are being expressed by the actual cancer cells within the tumor.
The new test, says Manjili differs by looking instead for the overall immune system response to the presence of cancer – and this, he says, is what gives the best clues as to whether or not that cancer will recur.
Moreover, experts say it opens the door for a new type of immune boosting therapy that could very well reduce the risk of recurrences even in those women at risk.
“Our findings could lead to clinical trials that test whether using immunotherapy prior to conventional treatments in breast cancer patients with a high risk of relapse could prime the patients' immune system, much like a vaccine, to prevent the likelihood of relapse," says Manjili.
The study involved 17 female breast cancer patients, all treated at the VCU Massey Cancer Center. At the time of treatment, tissue samples were collected and maintained at the center for seven years.
After follow-up of all 17 patients, eight experienced cancer recurrences within five years, while nine remained cancer-free at seven years.
A closer look at the tissue samples of those who developed the recurrences – compared to those who did not - revealed a specific configuration of the genetic immune system marker, could predict those recurrences with over 85% accuracy.
The researchers say the next step is to study tissue samples from a large patient population to help validate and confirm the importance of the immune system biomarker. They also intend to further test the accuracy of the new biomarker with a long term study to see if, indeed, it can predict who will remain cancer-free over a longer period of time.
Until such time as the accuracy of the test is verified, the American Cancer Society continues to caution all women to remain vigilant about breast cancer screenings including reular mammograms, regular breast self exams,
and, for cancer survivors, regular checkups with your oncologist.
Copyright by ElleMedia Network 2011 - All Rights Reserved. In addition to US Copyright, the text of this RedDressDiary article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. All formatting and style elements of this page are not available under this license, and Colette Bouchez retains all rights in those elements. Originally published in the Examiner.com by Colette Bouchez