It’s a new direction in treating cancer, specifically breast cancer. Doctors are now analyzing tissue to predict how fast the cancer will grow, and that has real implications in how patients are being treated.
Advanced testing may change the way cancer doctors order treatment when it comes to breast cancer. By using a process called oncotyping, surgeons can better assess a biopsy.
“Oncotyping is a test that they generated on the actual tissue that you take out of the breast. They used that information and developed this really complicated mathematical equation to look at the genes in somebody that has a breast cancer,” says Dr. Lea Blackwell, a breast surgical oncologist on Lee Memorial Health System's medical staff.
Researchers created a gene essay based on a wide sample of data to find how specific cancers are likely to respond. It’s helped them score patient’s tumors based on the likelihood of a recurrence. It’s also used to tailor cancer treatment.
“It’s a tool to differentiate who’s going to benefit from chemotherapy or not. They get the oncotype score and see if they have a low risk of recurrence. If they have a low risk of recurrence, then they don’t think that chemotherapy would be beneficial. If they have a high risk of recurrence, then it would be beneficial,” says Dr. Blackwell.
Looking at tumor tissue at a molecular level opens up new possibilities, and allows doctors to see things differently and determine which tumors will create the biggest problems.
“In the past you would think that the bigger the breast tumor, sort of the nastier the behavior. Potentially you can have these small tumors that actually can behave very badly, rather than a large tumor that’s behaving badly,” says Dr. Blackwell.
Oncotyping is being used on early stage, estrogen-receptor positive breast cancers, where the lymph nodes are not involved.