New test identifies aggressive form of breast cancer

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby



A University of Michigan researcher has invented a technology that can take some of the guesswork out of whether one form of early breast cancer is aggressive and likely to metastasize.

Dr. Howard Petty, a cancer survivor himself, came up with an imaging technology called Biomarker Ratio Imaging Microscopy — or BRIM — that highlights certain proteins in aggressive cancer cells.

His research could help the thousands of American women who are diagnosed every year with ductal carcinoma in situ, also known as DCIS, or stage 0 pre-invasive cancer. Doctors most often recommend removing the DCIS tissue either with lumpectomy or mastectomy because they can’t accurately determine whether it is aggressive or slow-growing and unlikely to metastasize. Radiation often follows to ensure all abnormal cells were destroyed.

But Petty, a professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, microbiology and immunology, says many times, those are unnecessary treatments.

“With a stage 0 cancer, a lot of those women who  forgo all treatment are fine,” he said. “Yet some of the women who  forgo treatment develop invasive breast cancer. We really need to be able to provide a way to assure patients that you really need the surgery or be able to say your cells have not differentiated into a dangerous state. There is no way to make that call. Physicians don’t want to get sued. Patients don’t want to get invasive disease, so we’re paying for 24,000 women a year who don’t need any treatment, but we’re paying for their mastectomies … and radiation when they don’t need it at all.”

Petty hopes his technology also will have implications for other cancers.

“What we have here is a way to determine whether or not any particular cells are dangerous. So I think that’s going to be useful. … In the short-term, we can help with DCIS. In the longer term, maybe within 3-5 years, maybe we can start helping with other forms of invasive cancer” such as prostate, thyroid and lung cancers.

“What we’re talking about here is personalized medicine.”

Petty is working now to launch a new company, called Breithmed Inc., with the help of the University of Michigan. The company would run the BRIM lab tests once the process gets certification.