A new breast cancer test can help determine chemotherapy need

Oncotest's "Breast Oncotype" test has made it possible to assess, after surgical removal of the tumor, if chemo is necessary or not to prevent recurrence of the cancer.

 Illustrative image of a breast cancer ribbon.   (photo credit: PIXABAY)
Illustrative image of a breast cancer ribbon.
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

Early diagnosis of breast cancer, the most common cancer among women in the Western world in general — and in Israel in particular — is the key to recovery.

According to the National Cancer Registry, one in eight women will develop breast cancer. In fact, every woman, even without risk factors, has a 14% chance of developing breast cancer.

In order to give a patient effective treatment, it’s crucial to know what the tumor type is, what its characteristics are and if there’s a sensitivity to female hormones like estrogen. 

Chemo or no chemo?

There are tests that utilize molecular analysis to determine if chemo is not necessary if the patient has received hormonal treatment and has undergone surgery and, conversely, for whom chemo is imperative and possibly life-saving. The only test that showed if chemo would be effective was the "Oncotype Breast" test by Oncotest.

A patient looks at a chart as she prepares to undergo a mammogram X-ray picture of the breast to look for early signs of breast cancer in the radiology unit at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya January 23, 2020. (credit: REUTERS/NJERI MWANGI)A patient looks at a chart as she prepares to undergo a mammogram X-ray picture of the breast to look for early signs of breast cancer in the radiology unit at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya January 23, 2020. (credit: REUTERS/NJERI MWANGI)

"Breast oncotype" is a genomic test that examines the presence of 21 genes in the cancerous tumor tissue which is removed during a local biopsy or surgery. Test results are given as a numerical value of 0-100 called the disease recurrence index.

The lower the value of the disease recurrence index (RS), the lower the risk of local or distant recurrence of the disease, and more importantly, the benefit of complementary chemo is negligible. 

So, in most cases, the doctor will forgo adding chemo to the treatment regimen. The higher the recurrence rate of the disease, the higher and more significant the benefit of chemo, so doctors will add chemo to the treatment protocol to reduce the chance of recurrence.

A real life example

Solly Hakim, 60, is a resident of Gan Yavne and has two sons. She had the test about a year ago after being diagnosed with breast cancer. "I noticed something unusual in my breast, and it seemed very strange. I searched but couldn’t find a lump," she says. "I requested a mammogram and a biopsy confirmed that it was a cancerous lump with infected glands and that this required chemo and surgery.

"My eldest son was getting married two months later and I told the doctor that I wasn’t doing chemo," Solly recalled.

"The doctor made it clear that there was no choice because cancer could spread. I was sent by the surgeon to the oncologist where I said I was stressed about side effects like hair loss," she adds.” During the appointment, the doctor told me about the breast Oncotype test. "

It was clear to Solly that she woudl do the test at any price.

"I told the doctor I wanted to do the test because it's my chance to avoid chemo. For me, this test can save me from side effects,” she recalled.

It took about two weeks for the test results to arrive back from the United States, and when they did the test showed that chemo would be ineffective. "From that moment on, I became a different person as if I didn’t have cancer. The test saved me from chemo and the side effects I was afraid of. It gave me a shot of encouragement at levels that are incomprehensible."

"From that moment on, I became a different person as if I didn’t have cancer. The test saved me from chemo and the side effects I was afraid of. It gave me a shot of encouragement at levels that are incomprehensible."

Solly Hakim, 60, a breast cancer patient who took the Oncotype Breast test

Luckily and happily for Solly, the result was positive and she received a recurrence index (RS) of 16, a result that shows that in her case the contribution of chemo would be very low. Since then she has received hormonal treatment to reduce the lump which was very large and after nine months of treatment she had surgery. Last month she finished the radiation and didn’t need chemo.

"I went through a month of radiation that is easier than chemo. At the radiation, I saw people who had had chemo, without hair and lacking energy. Luckily I didn’t need chemo thanks to the breast Oncotype test," concludes Solly, "I choose to share my story so people won’t think twice and will do the test. It saved my life mentally and spared me a lot of suffering.”

This article was written in partnership with Oncotest.