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Published on August 13, 2018

blood test vials

Innovative Test Helps Avoid Unnecessary Biopsies

When it comes to finding and fighting breast cancer, Avera clinicians have a new tool at their disposal – an innovative blood test that can help avoid biopsies after an abnormal mammogram.

“Videssa® Breast truly is changing the way we approach diagnosis, especially with a population of high risk patients who may have challenging mammograms or images,” said Josie Alpers, MD, radiologist and Director of Mammography at Avera Breast Center. “As doctors, we have only so many cards to play in diagnosing breast cancer. This test adds another important tool that will, over time, prove to be invaluable.”

Videssa Breast is a blood test that can detect the presence of certain proteins and antibodies that often signal that a patient has cancer. Alpers served as the primary investigator of Videssa research at Avera for the past five years.

“It started as a research opportunity at certain cancer centers in the United States. We had the second-highest number of patients in the nation, people who were willing to contribute to the effort,” said Alpers. “For patients, it’s simply a blood draw. But for our clinical teams, especially in our laboratory, there are vigorous processes and controls in place in order to make the test effective.”

Proteins in the blood will begin break down when exposed to room-temperature conditions. Videssa Breast only works when lab technician who receive and test the samples do so under rigorous guidelines.

“There are very specific instructions and protocols that have to be followed in order for a cancer center to be a part of this national program,” Alpers said. “Our laboratory teams were able to meet and exceed them. It’s very specific and it must be in order for the test to provide accurate information.”

Who It Can Help

Some breast cancer patients are considered high risk for the disease. Others have dense breast tissue, or dense nodular tissue, that can result in inconclusive mammograms.

“We have ultrasound, mammography, contrast-enhanced spectral mammography and MRI as potential screening imaging tools,” said Alpers. “In many cases, these options provide us what’s needed. But there are cases when these approaches will not be enough. Videssa Breast is another option to benefit patients in this unique subpopulation.”

How It Can Help

The Videssa Breast test costs less than exams like MRI, and it serves as a means to reduce the number of biopsies. Any biopsy can have risk, as well as emotional and physical discomfort. If a doctor had a patient with multiple undetermined lesions found on a traditional mammogram, one or two would be examined via biopsy testing.

“We are able to determine if the cancer-indicating protein or antibodies are in the blood. If they are, we can schedule a biopsy,” Alpers said. “If they are not, then we can continue to monitor the patient and avoid biopsy surgery.”

The test can offer convenience for women with pacemakers or other implanted medical devices that would make MRI impossible. In most cases, it also offers peace of mind because Videssa is nearly 99 percent effective in ruling out breast cancer.

“When we say ‘Come see us in six months’ – that can be really hard for many women, but if Videssa shows the proteins are not present, patients can be confident that they are not facing cancer,” she said. “This approach also allows physicians a way to monitor changes in ongoing treatment.”

Avera Cancer Institute was among the first five cancer centers in the United States to implement Videssa. Due to the strict guidelines with samples, the test currently is only offered in Sioux Falls.

Alpers said the test’s ongoing role in cancer care will continue to evolve.

“When we found out it was part of the federal government’s Cancer Moonshot efforts, we were pleased. That prominence is important,” she said. “It’s an honor to develop an ongoing research program that will become more and more routine and help those who need it.”

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