According to some Swiss scientists, a new kind of breast cancer test, which could save several women from needless chemotherapy, is reliable.
Already, doctors have been using core needle biopsy to sample suspect breast tissue for microscopic examination.
This new test involves the study of gene patterns in the sample. This may help in detecting more aggressive cancers that need intensive treatment. But the test has very little proof.
The Swiss research published in Breast Cancer Research confirms its worth. The most popular and reliable breast cancer test remains the mammogram screening. But it can be painful, relatively costly and results can take up to a week.
The team from University Hospital Basel found gene expression profiling of needle biopsy samples gave an accurate picture of entire breast tumors, despite only sampling very tiny parts of the cancers.
This information could then be used to distinguish which cancers are aggressive and need intensive treatment, such as intensive chemotherapy after surgery, and which tumors have little chance of returning after being removed surgically.
According to the Swiss study, core needle biopsy is a better method than surgical cutting, to get the breast tissue for gene profiling. The core needle biopsy is not only, less harmful but also gives a better indication of the gene patterns present in the cancer tissue. This method seemed to activate the expression of genes involved in wound healing and tumor invasion and spread. Any successive surgical sample taken would have a modified gene expression profile.
A recent study proves the above-mentioned statement. It involves 22 women with breast cancer. It was seen that the expression of 4 specific genes known to be involved in breast cancer development was noticeably increased in surgical samples compared to earlier core needle biopsy samples. The expression of those genes had not increased in surgical samples taken from 317 women who did not get a core needle biopsy.
The researchers say that it is essential for doctors to be aware of it while assessing the aggressiveness of a cancer and treatment requirements and outcomes.
The altered gene profile found in the surgical samples obtained after core biopsy might influence a doctor's interpretation of diagnosis, according to Dr Rosana Zanetti-Dällenbach and her colleagues at the University Hospital Basel.
They say that doctors get a cleaner, more precise and more representative picture by core needle biopsy.
Professor Karol Sikora, professor of cancer medicine and honorary consultant oncologist at Imperial College School of Medicine, said: "Gene expression profiling tells you the likely natural history of the disease - whether it is going to be aggressive or not - and then you can tailor treatment around it.
"It's a relatively new technique and the difficulty is that it needs validating. We do not have lots of clinical data yet, so this study is helpful."
Maria Leadbeater of Breast Cancer Care said: "This is an interesting study that could mean greater accuracy in predicting how someone with breast cancer responds to their treatment and the potential risk of its recurrence.
"However, this is a small scale study and more extensive work is needed to investigate whether this approach to using core needle biopsies could change the way breast cancer is currently diagnosed and treated."