Addressing the Need For Better Cancer Diagnostics
October was breast cancer awareness month. But within Agilent's diagnostics and genomics business area, the focus on breast cancer and improving its diagnosis is something we always prioritize. Accurate breast cancer diagnosis is important as it is still the most prevalent cancer in women, both in the developed and less-developed world. Incidence rates vary from 19.3 per 100,000 women in East Africa to 89.7 per 100,000 women in Western Europe. The good news is that through early detection programs and improved diagnosis and treatment, incidence rates are generally falling. In North America, Sweden and Japan, survival rates are now over 80 percent.
At Agilent, we are committed to help improve breast cancer survival by improving diagnostics. With increasing treatment options, the key is to get a comprehensive understanding of each patient's tumor quickly and accurately, so that treatment regimes can be tailored to each patient individually. Understanding cancer at a personal level -- and knowing which treatment will give the best likelihood of response - means that patients avoid many of the unnecessary side effects caused by treatments that otherwise provide them little therapeutic benefit.
Knowledge is power, and Agilent ensures that pathologists have the very latest knowledge. By creating opportunities to ensure experience is shared across the pathology community, many everyday challenges faced by pathologists when diagnosing breast cancer can be overcome. Agilent works with many global key opinion leaders to do just this. At this year's European Congress of Pathology in London, Agilent conducted an educational symposium. We brought together more than 400 pathologists and lab staff to hear top experts in breast cancer diagnosis share their perspectives on how to interpret and implement breast cancer testing guidelines. Events such as this are important to facilitate best practice sharing and discussion within the pathology community about how to be even better at diagnosing patients with cancer.
One of the speakers spoke about "triple negative breast cancer". The understanding of this, and its accurate diagnosis, is pivotal as these patients are especially difficult to treat. One patient from the UK recently wrote to us about the importance of a correct initial diagnosis:
"I was initially diagnosed as triple negative by mistake, and was told there wasn't anything they could give me to help prevent recurrence or to strengthen my prognosis. As it happens, two years later another team took a look at my notes after and gave me a retest. This prompted a different set of results, and I'm now on Tamoxifen. It's so important to diagnose correctly, and good to know that people are becoming better at diagnosis. It's even better to learn that there is a chance of something more personalized when it comes to treatment. This would be awesome."
As well as working with top experts, Agilent continues to partner with top-tier pharmaceutical companies to develop companion diagnostic tests, the tests are used to guide individualized treatment for patients based on the result of the companion diagnostic test. Agilent has a strong heritage in this area. In 1998, Dako in collaboration with Genentech launched the first companion diagnostic test for breast cancer. The HercepTest is still routinely used to test patients for whom treatment with Herceptin™ is being considered.
While extremely important for the patient, the potential gains from companion diagnostics extend further. Clinicians can diagnose and select treatment with increased confidence, knowing that their work will have a greater impact on fighting the disease. Companion diagnostics also have the potential to improve the efficiency of healthcare by reducing costs associated with unnecessary treatment and the management of side effects.
At Agilent, our goal is to help even more women survive cancer. As we continue to gain greater understanding of this disease, our mission is to turn this knowledge into insights that translate into better diagnostic tools for our customers, so they can provide comprehensive and confident test results to their patients with better answers. This will help women around the world to receive the right treatments they need to recover and get on with their lives.
You can view videos of the Agilent-sponsored ECP 2014 "Current Challenges in Breast Cancer Diagnostics" Symposia by clicking on this link.
Breast cancer statistics taken from WHO website