New Test Measures Risk of Breast Cancer Spread

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Women treated for breast cancer continually face the fear that breast cancer will spread to other organs. A new test can help women know if they are at risk for breast cancer metastasis, allowing targeted treatment that could reduce mortality from breast cancer.

The new marker for breast cancer metastasis called TMEM, Tumor Microenvironment of Metastasis, has been identified by researchers at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. The tissue test can help alleviate fears among women that breast cancer will spread. The TMEM test can also save women the cost and side effects of unnecessary radiation and preventive chemotherapy for breast cancer.

First author Dr. Brian D. Robinson, resident in Anatomic Pathology at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center says, "If patients can be better classified as either low risk or high risk for metastasis, therapies can be custom tailored to patients, preventing over-treatment or under-treatment of the disease.” The TMEM tissue test for breast cancer is much more specific for predicting how breast cancer cells spread through the bloodstream.

Senior study author, Dr. Joan G. Jones, professor of clinical pathology and laboratory medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College explains, “TMEM density directly reflects the blood-borne mechanism of metastasis, and therefore may prove to be more specific and directly relevant.”


The authors studied tissue samples from 30 patients with invasive ductal breast cancer and metastasis, comparing to women whose breast cancer was confined to the breast or surrounding lymph nodes only. The women had all undergone breast cancer resection between 1992 and 2003.

The researcher found that TMEM density was doubled in women whose breast cancer had spread, compared to women with low TMEM density and localized breast cancer.

Breast cancer can spread ten years after the initial diagnosis, but usually occurs within three years in ten to fifteen percent of women. In order to reduce the chances of breast cancer spread, approximately eighty percent of women are treated preventively with chemotherapy.

The next step is to refine the new test to help women know who is at risk for the spread of breast cancer. The researchers plan to validate their findings and find an exact threshold for TMEM density and the risk of breast cancer metastasis.