New test can predict if breast cancer will return

Researchers have developed a new test to identify women who are at high risk of their breast cancer returning.

The test looks for so-called immune cell ‘hotspots’ in and around tumours, where immune cells cluster together rather than spreading out in the tissue.

How the research was done

The team used a fully automated computer tool to analyse tissue samples from 1,178 women with oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer, which is the most common form of the disease.

When the immune cells clustered in hotspots, the chance of relapse within ten years of starting treatment was 25% higher than in women without hotspots.

Women with a higher number of hotspots were also more likely to relapse.

What the new test means

The test could be used to help predict the risk of cancer returning, and inform decisions about the right course of treatment.

Better understanding of the immune system in breast cancer could, ultimately, help researchers understand why certain treatments work in some patients but not others, and lead to new drug targets being identified.

Dr Yinyin Yuan, who is part of the Wellcome-funded Centre for Evolution and Cancer at the Institute of Cancer Research, says:

"Larger studies are needed before an immune hotspot test could come to the clinic, but in future such a test could pick out patients at highest risk of their cancer returning."

The samples used in the study are already taken as part of routine treatment. This means that implementing the immune hotspot test would be relatively easy and cost-effective.

More information