17 December 2019

Research presented by Professor Nicholas Turner at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium suggests that a blood test could be used to match patients living with secondary breast cancer.

The test uses tumour DNA, that can be found in the blood, to see if there are any specific weaknesses in a patient’s breast cancer that could be targeted with new drugs that are currently in clinical trials. Currently, these weaknesses are identified by analysing a piece of the tumour which is removed either through a biopsy or during surgery. However, these weaknesses can change during or after treatment or when cancer has spread.

This study, known as plasmaMATCH, investigated whether this blood test (also called a liquid biopsy) could detect changes in three genes called HER2, ESR1, and AKT1, that could be targeted with drugs. To confirm the accuracy of the blood test, the researchers also tested if these changes were seen in tissue samples taken from patients. The test correctly identified the presence or absence of these weaknesses in over 95% of cases. If the test found these cancer weaknesses, which it did in 142 cases, these women received the treatments that can target them. More clinical trials are now needed to further investigate if these drugs are an effective way of treating secondary breast cancer patients with these specific changes.  

Dr Simon Vincent, Director of Research at Breast Cancer Now, the research and care charity, said:

It’s extremely promising that this blood test can quickly and accurately evaluate the genetic make-up of a patient’s secondary breast cancer and could help identify potential new treatment approaches. We now look forward to further research to understand whether the use of new targeted therapies guided by this test could lead to better outcomes for patients than the treatments we already have.

With around 35,000 women in the UK living with the daily impacts and uncertainties of secondary breast cancer, which is currently incurable, we urgently need to find new treatment options to stop more women dying.

It’s really exciting that this liquid biopsy could help us quickly understand the most appropriate treatment for women with incurable breast cancer, but as well as identifying whether targeted therapy guided by this test would help, we now need to understand how it could be used at NHS hospitals across the country.

In the meantime, anyone diagnosed with secondary breast cancer can call our free Helpline on 0800 800 6000 for additional support or information – our nurses are just at the end of the phone.