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WashU researchers gaining better understanding of breast cancer tumors

By Adam Allington, KWMU

St. Louis, MO – Cancer researchers at Washington University and Barnes Jewish Hospital claim that studying a tumor's response to therapy, before it's removed, can help predict a patient's relapse potential.

Doctor Matthew Ellis is a breast cancer specialist at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes Jewish Hospital.

He says typically patients have tumors removed immediately and then go through a regimen of chemotherapy as a precautionary measure.

Still, Ellis says all tumors respond differently to therapy, and understanding that response, before the tumor is removed, can have important post-surgery implications.

"With all that variability in response, you can then start saying, well, there's a group whose relapse rate is so low they couldn't possibly benefit from chemotherapy," says Ellis.

Ellis says that by profiling the tumor's response to hormone therapy, such as anti-estrogen treatment, post-surgery chemotherapy was found to be unnecessary in roughly a quarter of the patients studied.

He says there is an understandable conservatism regarding breast cancer, because women's live are at risk. Still, studying an individual tumors response to treatment is an important piece of diagnostic data.

"I think the approach is pragmatic, its easy and its obvious and the only reason it hasn't been done before is the natural prejudice to remove the cancer as soon as you can," says Ellis.

The research team's findings are published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.


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