New study to pit mammography vs. DNA blood test

Can a genomics blood test catch signature bits of DNA that break off of breast-cancer cells and float through the bloodstream? If so, can the test reliably confirm mammography findings—or possibly alert clinicians to the presence of a tumor even more quickly than imaging can?

Those are among the questions researchers in Utah have set out to answer in a new three-year study announced Oct. 8 by Intermountain Medical Center and the Intermountain Precision Genomics Program.

En route to gathering data and publishing findings, the multidisciplinary researchers plan to develop a specific test to check for circulating-tumor DNA (ctDNA).

They’ll also directly compare clinical results from patients and controls in order to test the diagnostic accuracy of their “liquid-based biopsy” against that of mammography, according to the announcement.

Co-lead investigator Brett Parkinson, MD, imaging director and medical director of the Intermountain Medical Center Breast Care Center, says the results could go either way.

“We don’t know what we’ll see yet,” Parkinson says in prepared remarks. “We might find those who have breast cancer will have a negative blood test and learn it’s not a good screening tool.”

Intermountain notes that even a successful blood test isn’t expected to replace mammography outright.

If the test detects the ctDNA, imaging would still be needed to localize the tumor, Parkinson says.

However, if the blood test shows that it can eliminate unnecessary biopsies or monitor cancer survivors for recurrence, it may have done its job well enough to recommend it for various clinical scenarios.

To read the full announcement, click here.