Studies Identify Problems with Breast Cancer Tests

January 07, 2008 05:44 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Clinical studies raise questions about the reliability of testing methods used in determining the best course of treatment for breast cancer. Are patients receiving the wrong sort of therapy?

30-Second Summary

Breast cancer treatment has made great strides in the past few decades. Today, labs can test for specific types of proteins in cancer tissue, then use those results to help determine what treatment to offer.

For example, researchers have determined that tumors with large amounts of a protein called HER-2 are susceptible to a drug called Herceptin, while tumors with a large presence of estrogen and progesterone receptors respond well to anti-hormone treatments.

However, the test results doctors rely on to make their treatment decisions may not always be accurate, reports The Wall Street Journal. The Journal cites an analysis in the Journal of Clinical Oncology that showed that “70 percent of 105 patients [who] scored as negative on the estrogen test were relabeled as positive when the tissue was retested by an experienced lab.”

Laboratories have to demonstrate proficiency to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service with regard to more than 80 types of tests, but the two breast cancer tests are not among that number.

However, the chief medical examiner for the USCMMS, Barry M. Straube, told the Journal that the breast cancer tests could be added to the regimen.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, an organization dedicated to breast cancer research and care, last year published a white paper titled “Why Current Breast Pathology Practices Must Be Evaluated” that also raised questions about testing standards and reliability.

In the conclusion, the authors wrote: “Komen for the Cure has serious concerns about the lack of uniform standards currently available to guide the practice of breast pathology in this country." He calls for a “thorough review of breast pathology practices.”

Headline Links: ‘Bad Cancer Tests Drawing Scrutiny’

Background: Testing and breast cancer types

Opinion & Analysis: More pathology scrutiny advocated


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