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Blood test measures breast cancer risk level: study

PARIS--A simple blood test can save lives by helping doctors swiftly diagnose whether a patient with early breast cancer faces high risk of death or relapse after treatment, specialists said Wednesday.

Tumor cells in a blood sample, when taken at an early stage of the disease, are an accurate predictor of a patient's survival chances, the team said in the journal The Lancet Oncology.

The findings could help identify early on which patients might benefit from additional treatment like chemotherapy.

“The presence of one or more circulating tumor cells (CTCs, in the blood) predicted early recurrence and decreased overall survival,” said the researchers from the University of Texas' MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The more CTCs they found, the higher the risk of death.

CTC blood tests are not currently used to analyze a patient's prognosis or prescribe treatment, as cancer tumors are generally thought to spread through the lymphatic system rather than the bloodstream.

The team conducted tests on 302 patients treated at the centre between February 2005 and December 2010.

The subjects were at an early phase of breast cancer — before it spread to other parts of the body — and had not received chemotherapy.

The team found CTCs in a quarter of the group.

Of those with tumor cells in their blood, one in seven relapsed after treatment and one in 10 died during the test period.

By contrast, patients whose blood tests yielded no CTCs had a relapse rate of 3 percent and a death rate of 2 percent.

“For patients with a higher concentration of CTCs, the correlation with survival and progression rates was even more dramatic, with 31 percent of these patients dying or relapsing,” said a press release accompanying the study.

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