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Researchers have developed the MammaPrint test which can predict the risk of recurrence of breast cancer. This can greatly aid in decisions about whether further treatment is needed or not.

Breast cancer is the second most prolific cancer in the United States, and although survival rates are high and increasing every year, thousands of women in the States and worldwide lose their lives to this condition. Now, a new test has been licensed which can help someone who has experienced breast cancer to make the difficult decision of whether they need further treatment.

The MammaPrint test, developed by Agendia in the Netherlands, is aimed at women of all ages who have recently already had breast cancer, and can test patients who are either Estrogen Receptor (ER) positive or ER negative.

This test is used to predict whether there is a risk of the cancer metastasizing, or spreading, to other organs of the body. If no risk is found, then patients can choose whether or not to undergo any further chemotherapy.

This revolutionary research can help to take the uncertainty and the agony out of the waiting. Once an episode of cancer has been treated, then there is nothing more to do but wait to see if it has gone for good. Traditionally, the only way to tell if this was happening was to have further, regular tests or to choose to have further treatment to make completely sure.

How does MammaPrint work?

MammaPrint works by taking a biopsy of the tumor sample and immediately placing it into an mRNA preservative.

mRNA, or messenger RNA is the molecule which carries the information about a gene to the protein factories of the cell where genes are translated into working proteins.

This preservative stores the fragile and temporary mRNA molecules and tests them using microchip technology. A microchip is a matrix containing tiny drops of DNA which can allow researchers to test for many different genes at a time. It is advances in microarray technology such as this which have enabled researchers to conduct new experiments such as this.

Each MammaPrint chip initially tests for 1900 separate genes. 70 of these genes, which have been picked because they represent proteins which are linked to cancer metastasis, are tested further and in more detail. When used with traditional clinical measures, such as patient age, the size of the tumor, and lymph node status, this test can give fairly accurate predictions of outcome.

The results of the test are a very clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – i.e. there is either a good prognosis, with a low chance of the cancer spreading or a bad prognosis and chemotherapy should be started.

Good prognosis means that the cancer only has a 10% chance of recurring within 10 years without any treatment.

A bad prognosis means that there is at least a 29% chance that the cancer will recur within 10 years.

The results of these tests then mean that it is up to the patients whether they want to undergo further treatment – Treatment which might be harrowing for both the patient and their family, causing nausea, hair loss and weight loss.

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