How is molecular profiling being used in breast cancer?

Molecular profiling techniques are already being used to personalize breast cancer therapy in specific types of patients. This targeted approach helps spare healthy cells and causes less severe side effects than conventional chemotherapy.

HER2-positive breast cancer: About 20 percent to 25 percent of breast cancers are HER2-positive. These cells have increased amounts of HER2 receptors, and typically respond well to targeted treatments that block the activity of the HER2 receptor.

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Another medication, lapatinib (Tykerb), also targets HER2 by getting inside the cancer cell and blocking HER2 signals. Lapatinib also blocks HER1, which can also increase the growth of some breast cancer cells.

Triple-negative breast cancer: Triple-negative breast cancer is used to describe breast tumors whose cells do not depend on estrogen, progesterone and HER2 for their growth. Approximately 15 percent of all breast cancers are triple-negative tumors. These cancers tend to grow and spread more quickly and extensively than other types of breast cancer.

Currently, chemotherapy is the first line of treatment for women with triple-negative breast cancer. However, researchers are looking for new ways to combine chemotherapy and targeted drugs to improve treatment options for patients. They are also looking at how molecular profiling may help speed the development of effective therapies by blocking molecular pathways that are involved in the development and growth of triple-negative breast cancer cells.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

The best way to find out if molecular profiling is right for you is to talk with your doctor and other members of your health care team. They will be able to answer any questions that you may have about your cancer and tumor type. Take a friend with you to your appointment to help write down answers to any questions you may have. Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  • What are my treatment options?
  • What are the benefits of molecular profiling?
  • Are there any risks involved? If so, what are they?
  • Is my tumor eligible for molecular profiling?
  • When should my tumor be examined?
  • Is it too late to have my tumor examined if I have already undergone treatment?
  • How much does molecular profiling cost? Is it covered by my insurance?