According to the Associated Press, Estrogen fuels breast cancer yet doctors can’t measure how much of the hormone is in a woman’s breast without cutting into it. A Canadian invention might change that: A lab-on-a-chip that can do the work quickly with just the poke of a small needle.
Several years of study are needed before the experimental device could hit doctors’ offices, but the research published Wednesday opens the tantalizing possibility of easy, routine monitoring of various hormones. doctors could use it to see if breast cancer therapy is working, tell who’s at high risk, or for other problems, such as infertility –maybe even prostate cancer.
“It’s thought-provoking to think, ‘What could I do with a tool like this?’” said Dr. Kelly Marcom, breast oncology chief at Duke University Medical Center, who wasn’t involved with the new invention.
Here’s the problem: Scientists have long known that estrogen plays a role in many breast cancers. While hormone tests traditionally are done with blood, estrogen is particularly concentrated in breast tissue and breast cancer patients have much higher levels than other women. But measuring breast estrogen requires a fairly substantial biopsy, a painful and invasive procedure with its own risks. Then come hours of intense laboratory work to extract and purify the estrogen from the other cells. So that breast-testing is hardly ever done.
If doctors had a way to easily monitor breast estrogen levels, they could track which cancer survivors are responding to widely used estrogen blocking therapies—tamoxifen or drugs known as aromatase inhibitors—that aim to avoid a recurrence. They might even shed light on who’s at high risk for developing cancer.