Women who have HER2 positive breast cancer tend to be younger and have a more aggressive form of the disease, but if treated with the right medicines, can make remarkable recoveries. A new test at the University of Rochester is helping make the right diagnosis.
HER2 regulates the growth of cells, but when the gene is amplified, it causes tumors to grow aggressively.
The Florescence in Situ Hybridization, or FISH test, can look for HER2 in samples of tumors. The women who test positive, about one in five breast cancers, can be treated with drugs that specifically target the gene.
The results can be dramatic.
"Fifty percent reduction in the relative risk for recurrence when HER2 positive disease is treated with a HER2 targeted therapy. Thirty percent improvement in survival. Those are dramatic numbers. There's a number of new targeted agents that are available," said Dr. David Hicks, University of Rochester Medical Center surgical pathology director.
Hicks is part of a national committee that, just this week, released new guidelines about how and when to test for HER2 status and how to appropriately read the results.
The FISH test is one part of that testing process. URMC got the equipment last year, and it's now only one of a few centers in the region that can perform the tests. It saves doctors time from having to send samples out to other centers around the country, and sometimes waiting seven to 10 days for results.
Dr. Hicks says also doing it locally allows him to be able to work with doctors on finding the best treatment plan.
"They have access to me. They can call me and talk about cases and if they're uncomfortable or don't think things fit or they want to revisit a case, 'I'd like to repeat the test on the biopsy.' That's all something you don't have access to when you send it to a national reference lab," Hicks said.
URMC offers the tests for patients from all of our area medical centers. It can test about 500 cases a year.