A new test predicts whether breast cancer will spread

A new test predicts whether breast cancer will spread

When I used to smoke 80 Marlborough Reds a day I had no fear of dying from lung cancer. I knew that it generally takes a few decades to develop, so I was confident there would be a cure by the time I needed one.

Back then, most people thought of cancer much like TB or polio – a single disease that would eventually respond to a single treatment or immunisation. Now, of course, we know that cancer is a broad term for many different diseases and that a silver bullet is very unlikely.

However, the experts are continuing to chisel away by refining treatment. And, as a result, survival rates have improved dramatically for some types of cancer such as colon and breast.

They are also working at ways to minimise what can be an incredibly brutal treatment regime. For example, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, the only way they could tell whether cancer had spread into the lymph nodes under your arm was to remove them all. This can lead to life-long debilitating complications such as lymphoedema – particularly heartbreaking if your lymph nodes proved to be clear. Since then, sentinel node biopsy has made unnecessary removal much less likely.

Now it seems that researchers have found a way to identify people whose breast cancer is unlikely to spread and so spare them from purely preventative treatments. It’s not a cure, but at least it’s another move in the right direction.