Every breast cancer is different. This is why your pathology report, blood studies, and extra tests can be so complicated and why there are so many different treatments for breast cancer. Two important tests that help you and your doctor decide on breast cancer treatments look for:
- Hormone receptors. Breast cancer cells with hormone receptors can often be treated effectively with hormonal therapy medicines. There are two types of hormone receptors: estrogen receptors and progesterone receptors.
- HER2 protein. When breast cancers have this protein they can be more aggressive and harder to treat. But Herceptin is now being used to treat these breast cancers.
Breast cancers that are negative for the two types of hormone receptors and are also negative for the HER2 protein are called "triple negative" breast cancers. These breast cancers tend to occur more often in young women and tend to be very aggressive.
A study found that many triple negative breast cancers produce a protein called nestin that can be detected by a blood test. This could be important for two reasons. First, the nestin blood test could be done as soon as a breast cancer is found, even before a biopsy or surgery. If the cancer tests positive for nestin, it could mean it's triple negative breast cancer. Knowing this might help you and your doctors decide the timing for surgery and treatment options. Second, it's possible that researchers might develop a treatment that targets nestin in the way Herceptin targets HER2.
Nestin testing is not generally available right now. But this research offers hope that a test and targeted treatment may be available to better diagnose and treat triple negative breast cancer. Stayed tuned to Breastcancer.org for the latest research news on promising targeted therapies.