From Screening to Treatment: How Biomarkers Are Changing the Breast Cancer Landscape
Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer affecting women worldwide. Early detection and treatment of breast cancer are crucial for successful treatment and improved survival rates. However, current screening techniques, like mammography, can detect abnormal changes in a patient’s breast tissue but cannot distinguish between benign and malignant masses, leading to unnecessary biopsies, surgeries, and anxiety.
Fortunately, advances in medical technology have paved the way for the development of biomarkers that aid in the early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer, guide personalized treatments and enable monitoring of treatment efficacy.
Biomarkers are measurable biological indicators that indicate the presence, severity, or progression of a disease. In breast cancer diagnosis, biomarkers are typically found on the surface of cells or in blood, urine or tissue samples. These biomarkers can help identify the type and stage of cancer, tumor grade and predict the likelihood of recurrence.
One of the most widely used breast cancer biomarkers is the hormone receptor (HR). HR-positive cancer cells have receptors for estrogen or progesterone, which signals the cancer to continue growing. As a result, HR-positive breast cancers generally respond well to hormone-blocking therapies like tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors.
Another biomarker is HER2, which is a protein found in normal breast tissue. However, some women with breast cancer have too much HER2 protein on the surface of their cancer cells, making them more aggressive and harder to treat. HER2-positive breast cancers can be treated with targeted drugs like trastuzumab, which binds to and blocks HER2, inhibiting cancer growth.
More recently, genomic biomarkers have emerged as powerful tools for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Genomic biomarkers look at the activity of genes within a cancer cell, providing critical information about the cancer’s behavior and responsiveness to therapy. Tests like Oncotype DX, a genomic test that analyzes 21 genes in breast cancer tissue to predict the risk of recurrence and guide tailored therapy, can help identify which women with early-stage breast cancer may benefit from chemotherapy.
Moreover, liquid biopsy or the sampling of blood, urine or other bodily fluids for cancer biomarkers, has emerged as a non-invasive technique for detecting breast cancer and monitoring treatment response. Liquid biopsy can detect circulating tumor cells, DNA, and RNA, which provide vital real-time information about the cancer’s genetic and biological changes during treatment.
In summary, the discovery and application of biomarkers in breast cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment provide a more informed and personalized approach to healthcare. By detecting breast cancer earlier, classifying tumors more accurately, guiding tailored therapy, and monitoring response to treatment, biomarkers can improve survival rates, minimize unnecessary procedures and improve the quality of life for breast cancer patients. As technology continues to develop, more biomarkers will be discovered, making breast cancer a more treatable and manageable disease.