New Test Could Help Women after Cancer Diagnosis

A new test may help some women choose the best course of treatment after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Dian Gilmore and Mary D'Innocenzo are two women who faced life-altering decisions after the very earliest stage of breast cancer was detected on their mammograms.

Gilmore, 66, chose a lumpectomy to remove just the tumor.

"I honestly felt that after the surgery had taken place that they had gotten the cancer," Gilmore said.

D'Innocenzo, 38, chose to have a double mastectomy.

"It wasn't supposed to happen to me," D'Innocenzo said.

It was the same diagnosis, but dramatically different choices, reports CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook. It's a dilemma facing all women diagnosed with a breast cancer called non-invasive ductal carcinoma (DCIS), because it may not necessarily be deadly.

It makes up about one in five breast cancer cases in this country, striking about 53,000 women last year alone.

In DCIS, the abnormal breast cells are confined to the lining of the milk ducts. They don't cause any serious harm until they break through the lining and become invasive. DCIS is picked up by mammography, but the mammogram can't tell you which cancers will never progress, and which ones will become life threatening.

A new test was announced today by the University of California, San Francisco. It analyzes certain characteristics of biopsied breast tissue -- called biomarkers -- to predict which women with DCIS are more likely to develop invasive cancer over eight years.

"This test is the first one that gives us -- that begins to give us -- that ability," said professor and study author Thea Thlsty.

To see who is most at risk, researchers followed more than 1,100 women with DCIS, treated with a lumpectomy alone. The highest-risk women had about a 20 percent chance. The lowest risk patients had less than a 5 percent chance -- only slightly more than that of an average 60-year-old woman.

"What these markers allow the women and clinician to do, is to stratify risk- to identify that woman who has a high probability of having a future tumor so that she can chose an aggressive treatment," Tlsty said.

This new test could also spare women at lowest risk from an aggressive treatment they don't need.

"It would be wonderful to say to these patients, just a surgical lumpectomy is enough for you. You don't need to do more," said Dr. Freya Schnabel, the director of breast surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center.

This is a promising new test but it's not widely available yet. There still needs to be more research.