First blood test for breast cancer detection reaches Alaska
Blood tests let patients know if they have a vitamin B deficiency. Blood testing provides windows into whether a person has diabetes. But until recently, no blood test could tell if a person has breast cancer.
New technology available for the first time in Alaska should help ease anxiety for women tested for breast cancer by providing clearer answers during cancer screening. Dr. Karen Barbosa at Alaska Breast Care Specialists on the Alaska Regional Hospital campus is the first in the state to offer the protein-based blood test for detecting breast cancer.
Barbosa also introduced to Alaska patients another technology called BioZorb, which is used during a lumpectomy. She is the only accredited Breast Fellowship Trained Surgeon in Alaska, which means she has achieved a unique specialization and expertise in the treatment of breast cancer from detection to radiation/chemotherapy and surgery.
“I’m really excited to bring these new technologies to Alaska,” she said. The technology is “so cutting edge, even many doctors don’t know this exists. We want to get the technology not only out to patients, but to let doctors know it exists.”
Patients can make an appointment to have their blood drawn at Alaska Breast Care Specialists. The Videssa testing is then completed at a Provista Diagnostic lab, which also handles the billing and gives the results in 5 to 7 days. So far, only a handful of patients at Barbosa’s clinic have had the test.
“It’s that new,” she said.
Here’s the problem with current testing. For patients with abnormal or difficult-to-interpret mammograms, breast imaging has known limitations. Benign breast disease can mimic the appearance of cancer, increasing false positives and breast density can obscure cancers increasing false negatives.
This can lead to uncertainty about whether or not immediate follow-up is needed, patient anxiety and unnecessary downstream procedures contributing to increased healthcare costs, according to Provista Diagnostic, which provides the Videssa testing.
Nonetheless, Barbosa recommends her patients do the imaging tests or mammograms, in addition to the Videssa Breast blood test. The test detects the current status, but doesn’t predict future risk.
The test was developed by advancement in understanding protein biomarkers in the blood. It detects and analyzes multiple types of tumor protein biomarkers for improved cancer detection.
Unlike other liquid biopsy technologies, such as circulating tumor cells and cell-free DNA, breast cancer proteins are more abundant in the blood, offering a more effective approach for cancer detection, according to information published by Provista Diagnostics.
“In a nutshell, the Videssa test is looking at protein levels in your blood for Bi-Rads 3 or 4, which would suggest a biopsy,” Barbosa said.
A low protein signature indicates you likely don’t have cancer. Therefore, no biopsy is necessary. A high protein signature (Bi-Rads 3-4) means it’s important to follow up, but is not conclusive for cancer.
“Every case varies,” she said.
Barbosa also is using BioZorb, a device used in lumpectomies. After a lump is removed, the surgeon inserts the device, a spiral the size of a walnut and six little titanium clips.
“This does several things from a cosmetic standpoint,” said Liz Dowling, the communications director for BioZorb through Dowling &Dennis Public Relations in San Francisco.
A “divet” is implanted in the area where the lump was removed. It acts as a scaffold for reconstructive surgery.
“Radiation is the next step after a lumpectomy, but with BioZorb implanted, the radio oncologist can target exactly where the cancer is so the patient doesn’t need as much radiation,” Dowling said. “The clips are the only things that stay. After a year the coil is absorbed by the body, like sutures. So when a radiologist does a scan, they can see where the cancer was removed (by the remaining clips’ placement). And they can check it much more carefully.”
Barbosa has used the BioZorb technology about six months longer than she has used the blood testing. She found out about the technologies at specialized cancer conferences out of state in 2015-16 and signed on to use them in her practice.
Most of all now, Barbosa is eager to share the technology with not only her patients, but the larger Alaska health community, she said.
Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected].