Breast cancer patients welcome genomic test that predicts risk of recurrence

October 18, 2007
Photograph of Dr. Noel Brewer

Photograph of Dr. Noel Brewer

New research from the School of Public Health, UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and department of psychology in the College of Arts & Sciences finds most breast cancer patients would be receptive to a new genomic test that can determine the chance of breast cancer recurrence and help plan treatment.

The study was led by Noel Brewer, Ph.D., assistant professor of health behavior and health education in the School of Public Health.

Currently, breast cancer physicians make treatment decisions and predict the risk of recurrence based largely on the location and size of the tumor and if the cancer has spread to lymph nodes and distant sites of the body. But not all patients who are similar in terms of these clinical indicators get the same benefits from treatment.

In an attempt to remedy that situation, scientists studying the genetics of breast cancer at UNC and elsewhere have identified a number of patterns in the genes of individual tumors that make them biologically different from others and which could provide valuable clinical information, such as how likely the tumors are to be invasive, how well they might respond to different treatments and how likely they are to recur or spread.

While the test is still under study and a not yet a part of clinical care, it appears that such differences in gene expression patterns may be used to individually tailor treatment.

The new study asked 139 women who were treated for early-stage breast cancer questions that presented hypothetical scenarios reflecting different test outcomes and potential treatment decisions. It is the first to demonstrate breast cancer patients’ interest in genomic risk testing and how these results might influence decisions about adjuvant care.

“We assessed women’s attitudes towards risk for recurrence testing, how results would affect their choices about adjuvant treatment, and potential concerns about and perceived benefits of testing,” said Dr. Suzanne O’Neill of the National Human Genome Research Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, who was involved in the study.

The study, published Oct. 10, 2007, in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found most patients would have been interested in a genomic test that showed their risk for recurrence at the time they were treated, had it been available. The majority said they would “definitely” want to be tested (76 percent), receive their results (87 percent), and discuss these results with their physicians.

 

School of Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, director of communications, (919) 966-7467 or ramona_dubose@unc.edu. School of Medicine contact: Les Lang, (919) 843-9687 or llang@unch.unc.edu.

News Services contact: Clinton Colmenares, (919) 843-1991 or clinton_colmenares@unc.edu.