Intermountain launches 3-year genomics study into breast cancer

A team of cancer researchers from Murray, Utah-based Intermountain Medical Center and St. George, Utah-based Intermountain Precision Genomics initiated a three-year genomics breast cancer study, the hospital announced Oct. 11.

Researchers will investigate whether a blood test that screens for DNA from circulating tumor cells, known as ctDNA, is able to detect the presence of breast cancer. In the study, funded through a donation from Beesley Family Foundation, breast cancer patients and a screening group will both undergo the blood test. Researchers will then evaluate the blood test's findings against mammography results.

"As a tumor is growing, some of the cells will die and their DNA will end up in the peripheral bloodstream," explained Lincoln Nadauld, MD, PhD, co-lead investigator of the study and executive director of Intermountain Precision Genomics. "We're able to distinguish DNA from cancer versus DNA from normal cells. The idea is to leverage DNA to see if we can detect that it comes from a tumor."

The researchers' goal isn't to replace mammography, said the study's co-lead investigator Brett Parkinson, MD, imaging director and medical director of the Intermountain Medical Center Breast Care Center. He noted if the blood test detected ctDNA, a patient would still need to undergo mammography imaging to find the tumor.

However, the blood test may provide a way to improve breast cancer diagnoses, since mammography screening rates in the U.S. are low, according the researchers. A validated liquid biopsy may also prove helpful to monitor breast cancer survivors for recurrence.

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