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Bone marrow test may help determine odds of breast cancer relapse
(CNN) -- Bone marrow tests could become a valuable tool in the care of breast cancer patients.
Doctors commonly perform a lymph node biopsy to determine a patient's risk of relapse, but a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests a bone marrow test in addition to the biopsy may help make that prediction more accurate.
"This study showed that women who have tumor cells in their bone marrow may also be at high risk for tumor relapse and potential death," said Massachusetts General Hospital's Dr. Barbara Smith, a breast cancer surgeon who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.
Still, researchers say more long-term studies are needed before any treatment recommendations can be made. Until then, lymph node biopsy remains the best way to determine if cancer will return to the breast area.
But the bone marrow test may eventually help doctors identify aggressive tumors, experts say.
"Sometimes these types of tests tell us which are the fast growing tumors and which are the slow growing tumors," said Dr. Larry Norton of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. "The slower growing tumors can still relapse, and they should, therefore, still be treated."
The bone marrow tests may also help reduce some breast cancer patients' need for chemotherapy.
"It may be possible to identify a group of women who have a very low risk of tumor spread -- clean lymph nodes and clean bone marrow -- who may not need chemotherapy at all," said Smith.
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Massachusetts General Hospital
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