Breast Cancer Diagnostics

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer of females in the United States. In 2021, approximately 281,550 new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed and 43,600 deaths were documented. The term “breast cancer” refers to a group of diseases with heterogeneous biologies that lead to varied clinical phenotypes. The primary screening method for breast cancer is mammography, which uses x-rays to search for growths. Early cancer detection by mammography has substantially reduced cancer mortality. Mammography can identify calcifications or breast masses, but may miss invasive breast cancer in women with small tumors or dense breast tissue. Further, mammography cannot distinguish between malignant and benign breast conditions resulting in a high false-positive rate.  Statistics from the National Cancer Institute indicate that if a woman without breast cancer is screened seven times, she will have a greater than 50% probability of experiencing a false-positive mammogram, and of these women, up to 17% will have an invasive and unnecessary biopsy.

The Walt Lab is developing a blood test that can be combined with mammographic imaging to overcome the challenges with current screening methods and detect aggressive cancers early and accurately. In collaboration with Dr. Deb Dillon (BWH Pathology), Dr. Cory Robinson Weiss (BWH Radiology), and Canon USA, Inc., the Walt Lab has established a prospective blood sample collection at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital to integrate existing standards of care (i.e., breast imaging) with the blood test to improve breast cancer screening. The goal of this study is to determine if a blood test at the time of breast imaging could reduce the number of women who are recommended to have breast tissue biopsied, but do not have breast cancer (i.e., the biopsy is “benign”).  Using blood samples collected in this study, the Walt Lab will compare circulating biomarker profiles with radiology results and pathology results of all clinical biopsies taken. Studying blood-based biomarkers could provide molecular information that will enable us to learn more about how breast cancers develop, and whether there are early changes that can predict who will develop breast cancer. The information we collect in this study will be used to better identify high risk individuals whose short-term risk of breast cancer is much higher, and enable better timing of risk-reducing interventions, such as medications or surgery. In addition to the immediate study of circulating protein biomarkers, we anticipate that these samples will prove valuable for validation of novel, yet-to-be-developed diagnostic tools in the coming years. This study reaches towards personalized precision oncology by leveraging collaborations between the Pathology and Radiology departments, laboratory and computer scientists, and healthcare providers.

Funding: Canon Medical