Breast cancer hormone test sees which patients will respond to treatment

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About 70 percent of breast cancer patients are estrogen-positive. Doctors can't predict which of them will respond to standard estrogen-blocking drugs. Forty percent of them won't, and their cancers grow, despite treatment.

Now, a researcher in California has found a diagnostic test that may tell doctors who will respond and who won't.

Helen Eckman was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 42 and 49.

"And then, surprisingly, at 65, I was diagnosed with breast cancer that had gone and metastasized into my bones," Eckman said.

She's estrogen-positive, but there wasn't a reliable test to see if she'd respond to standard therapy.

Researcher Svasti Haricharan is working to change that now.

"We identified one particular protein that, when it's lost or defective in women with breast cancer, they do not respond to standard care," Dr. Svasti Haricharan said.

That's about a third of ER-positive women in Haricharan's study. She hopes to use an existing test that identifies the DNA defect in colorectal patients and a drug for metastatic breast cancer for treatment-resistant patients.

"The diagnostic test for this protein is already FDA-approved and in the clinic. It's just a question of bringing them both together," Haricharan said.

Existing approval means the test and treatment can get to patients more quickly. Eckman's goldendoodle, Dakota, keeps things light while she presses on for herself, her two daughters and seven granddaughters.

"My hope is that even though I've gone through this journey painfully, but well, I would hope that my daughters and my granddaughters won't have to go through it at all," Eckman said.

The drug has worked in a clinical trial already. Haricharan estimates that the diagnostic test will be available in the next five years.

REPORT: MB #4566

BACKGROUND: One in eight women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer in her life making it the most commonly diagnosed cancer in American women. There are over 300,000 new cases estimated to be diagnosed this year, and 62,930 of them will be considered non-invasive. Though it is not as common, one in 83 men will be diagnosed with the disease as well. Breast cancer is estimated to kill over 40,000 women this year alone. As of the beginning of the month, there are now more than 3.1 million women living with a history of breast cancer. Some symptoms include swelling of part or all of the breast, lump in the underarm, nipple discharge other than breast milk, and breast pain. If you see or feel any of these, you should go to your doctor. (Source:

TREATMENTS: Besides monthly self-exams and annual mammograms, doctors may also use an MRI, CT or PET scan, or biopsy to help stage the cancer zero to four. From there, there are a sequence of treatments that can be given to the patient. The first being surgery. Patients can choose to either get rid of the just the cancer (lumpectomy) or remove one (mastectomy) or both breasts. Other surgeries can remove some of the lymph nodes in either a sentinel node biopsy or axillary lymph node dissection. The second step after surgery is chemotherapy which could be paired with radiation therapy. The last step is hormonal therapy which can be given if the cancer is hormone receptor positive, but researchers have been looking into how to tell where patients should start on the sequence. (Source:

NEW TECHNOLOGY:. There are three types of hormones that are associated with breast cancer: estrogen (ER), progesterone (PR) and hormone negative. About 80 percent of all diagnosed breast cancer is ER positive, and of that 65 percent is PR positive as well, but the problem is that some of the cancers might not respond to therapies causing it to spread and return. Dr. Svasti Haricharan from Sanford Burnham Prebys has created a test to try to determine what cancers will respond to what. Dr. Haricharan says that the goal for her research is not have a woman go through 20 years of therapy before it gets cured, but rather be able to get them the right treatment immediately. (Source: