New Tests Hope to Better Identify Breast Cancer Risk

Doctors debate effectiveness of tests, what to do with results

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Doctors are debating the effectiveness of new breast cancer tests and what to do with the results.

    It's a difficult question that every woman faces in her lifetime: What is my risk for getting breast cancer?

    Several new genetic tests aim to better answer that question. They're becoming more widely available, and one is even being advertised on TV.

    But doctors are still debating how effective some of them are, who should take them and what to do with the results.

    Doctors Debate Effectiveness of New Breast Cancer Tests

    [DFW] Doctors Debate Effectiveness of New Breast Cancer Tests
    Doctors are debating the effectiveness of new breast cancer tests and what to do with the results.

    To cancer survivor LaToyce Harvey, the tests offer the hope that more women might be able to avoid what she went through. At 35 years old, the mother of two was suddenly diagnosed with breast cancer.

    She had no family history of breast cancer.

    "I'm otherwise healthy; just this one crazy incident," she said.

    Harvey took the BRAC analysis blood test to find out more about her cancer. It  looks for two hereditary gene mutations found in 10 percent of women with breast cancer.

    BRAC is also being marketed to women without cancer as a preventative screening that can help women understand their risk. It's even being advertised on TV.

    In Harvey's case, the test came back negative for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, leaving her to wonder about what may have put her at higher risk.

    There are now new tests hitting the market that hope to identify a much larger group of women at increased risk. One test called deCode is made by a company based in Iceland, and another called OncoVue, is made by InterGentics in Oklahoma City.

    The tests look for what are called gene SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms), noninherited gene variations found more often in women with breast cancer. The tests are available to any woman older than 30 and involve just a swab of the inside of the cheek or a swish of mouthwash that's collected in a vial.

    Only a small number of doctors nationwide offer the tests. Dr. Lynn Canavan at Baylor Plano Medical Center is one of only two clinics in Texas providing the OncoVue test to patients.

    She said the early research is very promising.

    "We think by the statistics we have right now that we can identify 60 percent of women who would be at risk for getting cancer," she said. "I think it's going to take off."

    Canavan said she believes the tests may revolutionize the way women are screened and could someday become as common as mammograms.

    But until more research is completed, some doctors still question the effectiveness of the new tests and debate what to do with the results.

    "There's no Consumer Reports of genetic testing" that rates their accuracy, Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, of the American Cancer Society, told the Associated Press.

    The Food and Drug Administration has not set up standards to regulate the tests but has allowed them to be sold under rules governing medical labs.

    Women who test positive for increased risk can be monitored with more frequent mammograms, but doctors are split on whether or not they should also be given risk-reducing drugs such as Tamoxifen or undergo preventative mastectomies.

    Harvey hopes said she hopes the tests, over time, will help prevent cancers such as the one she faced just one year ago.

    "A bolt of lightning strikes us out of nowhere -- young people, healthy people," she said.