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Saving more breasts

A single tissue sample reveals if you have breast cancer with spread. That means the most aggressive cancer types can be detected at an early stage.

Every year 2800 Norwegian women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Some 800 of them die. The sooner the cancer is detected, the better the chances of survival.

A new method makes it possible to detect the most aggressive types far earlier than previously. At the same time, women with a ’mild’ type could be notified quickly that they are out of danger and not have to carry their fears for months without reason.

Ingrid Gribbestad’s research group at the MR Centre at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim has been a pioneer in the work of developing the method. The innovation involves looking at the biopsies (breast tissue samples) at molecular level.

”Today, we have to study the cancerous tumours in microscopes and observe the dangerous changes with our bare eyes. We operate on the lower level when it comes to size,” Gribbestad says.

Molecular prints

The method involves taking a ’fingerprint’ of the molecules in the tissue sample. The principle is already used for liquids such as oil and wine: Fish oils can be traced back to where the salmon came from, while the content of a wine bottle can be traced to a specific vineyard. However, nobody else in the world has managed to transfer the method to a medical analysis of breast cancer before.

”There is no doubt that we are at the top internationally in this area,” says Gribbestad.

Based on a normal fingerprint, detectives can say something about the owner’s looks and criminal record, if the person’s identity is known. In the same way, Gribbestad can say something about the behaviour of a particular cancerous tumour – if she knows the history and the molecules of the tumour in question.

That makes it possible, for instance, to establish whether the cancer in this tissue has spread to lymph nodes elsewhere in the body.

Disease profile adaptation

”Another positive aspect is that this ’fingerprint’ also indicates whether the patient will respond to the medical treatment we initiate,” Gribbestad explains.

That makes it possible to find the patients that should be given chemotherapy even before the operation. In addition, cases where it is safe to remove only the affected tissue instead of the entire breast will be easier to find. More breasts will be spared.

“With this we leave the group treatment for the benefit of individual treatment adapted to each patient’s disease profile,” concludes Ingrid Gribbestad.

Tore Oksholen/Gemini

Nina Tveter | alfa
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