Pilot Study Suggests Molecular Profiling of Cancer Tumors Lead to Better Treatments

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Every breast cancer is different. Cancer cells start to grow when abnormal changes in the DNA of a cell tell the cell to grow faster and behave differently than it should. As cancer cells multiply to form a tumor, they continue to change and become more different from each other. As a cancer grows, new and different types of cells are created within the tumor. The mixture of cells that are created over time become more and more complex.

Molecular profiling analyzes a cancer tumor and looks for specific proteins in the cancer’s cells that are linked to cancer growth, including:

  • TOPO1
  • TOP2A
  • TS
  • HER2
  • estrogen and progesterone receptors

If doctors know that a cancer has one or more of these proteins, they can use treatments that target the specific protein. This is why some women get combinations of treatments or treatments before or after other therapies.

A very small pilot study has found that women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer lived longer without the cancer growing (progression-free survival) when they got treatments based on molecular profiling results.

The study was presented at the 2013 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting. Read the abstract of “A pilot study utilizing molecular profiling to find potential targets and select individualized treatments for patients with metastatic breast cancer.”

Metastatic breast cancer is breast cancer that has spread to parts of the body away from the breast, such as the bones or liver. Metastatic breast cancer is considered advanced-stage cancer.

Pilot studies are small studies done to see if something can be done and to see if it makes sense to conduct a larger study on the same thing.

The pilot study looked at 25 women who had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. All the women had received between four and 11 earlier treatments for breast cancer. For each woman, the researchers did a new core biopsy of the cancer at the metastatic site. A core biopsy uses a hollow needle to remove several cylinder-shaped samples of tissue.

The researchers then tested the tissue samples for specific proteins linked to breast cancer growth and spread. Based on the results, each woman received a highly personalized treatment plan. For all 25 women, this personalized treatment plan was different than what they would have received as their next treatment if molecular profiling hadn’t been done.

More than half of the women (13) had three times better progression-free survival after receiving the personalized treatment plan compared to their progression-free survival after earlier treatments that weren’t so personalized.

These pilot study results are very promising and exciting, but they are early results. The researchers plan to conduct a bigger study to see if the results are the same for a much larger group of women.

If you’ve been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, you and your doctor may be considering a number of treatment options. If you’re willing to participate in a clinical trial, you may have even more options available, possibly including molecular profiling. Talk to your doctor about clinical trials that might be a good fit for you and your unique situation. Visit the Breastcancer.org Clinical Trials pages for more information.

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