A new study by scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust has found that a simple blood test is capable of detecting specific genetic mutations in breast tumours and helping to guide treatment for patients.

The blood test will provide clinicians with a better knowledge of the genetic characteristics of individual breast cancers.

It can also be used to guide and adjust treatment for breast cancer patients without the need for invasive and risky tissue biopsies.

By using the test to analyse tumour DNA traces circulating in the blood, researchers can identify mutations that influence cancer growth and provide resistance to treatment.

The scientists evaluated tumour DNA from blood tests obtained from a total of 800 advanced breast cancer patients in a multiple parallel cohort, open-label, multicentre plasmaMATCH trial.

They tried to identify targetable defects in genes such as BRAF, HER2 and PIK3CA, which are connected to breast cancer.

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Furthermore, the scientists were able to identify the patients who were most likely to have genetic changes in their breast tumours by analysing their tumour DNA with the help of liquid biopsies.

Several new potential therapeutic approaches to treat advanced breast cancer were also identified.

ICR molecular oncology professor and Royal Marsden Ralph Lauren Centre for Breast Cancer Research head Nick Turner said: “Our latest plasmaMATCH results identify which genetic alterations are common and most likely to drive breast cancer in different groups of patients while also shedding light on the processes influencing the development of resistance to treatments.

“We have identified the mutations that breast cancer can acquire to evolve through treatment, helping to advance our understanding of how cancers become resistant to treatment.

“This will allow us, in the future, to come up with new strategies to tackle resistance, aiming to improve outcomes for women living with advanced breast cancer.”