Stanford Cancer Institute

SCI Women’s Cancer Center Innovation Awardee

October 2023

A $50,000 SCI Women's Cancer Center Innovation Award was awarded to Fauzia Riaz, MD, clinical assistant professor of medicine (oncology), and Candice Thompson, MD, clinical assistant professor of surgery, and their collaborator Melinda Telli, MD, associate professor of medicine (oncology), for their proposal “Circulating tumor-DNA detection in early stage triple negative and HER2-positive breast cancer.”Riaz is a medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer and studying novel therapeutic approaches for patients with breast cancer. Thompson is a breast surgeon who uses innovative approaches to conserve breast tissue in patients with breast cancer.

Cancer cells release into the blood fragments of their DNA that contain the same DNA mutations found within the tumor. Analysis of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA)represents a non-invasive strategy for learning about the presence of cancer cells within the body and the state of the disease. Indeed, ctDNA has been used to detect whether residual cancer cells remain after surgery, and this approach has been used to inform decisions regarding the appropriate follow-up chemotherapy treatment in patients with colon cancer. However, the use of ctDNA in breast cancer has thus far only been evaluated for advanced disease. Through the support of the SCI Women's Cancer Center Innovation Award,  Riaz and Thompson propose to investigate the potential of using ctDNA to inform treatment decisions in patients with early-stage breast cancer. This is particularly relevant for patients whose breast cancer is detected early and then surgically removed because the benefit of chemotherapy is unclear at this stage. ctDNA analysis could potentially identify patients who harbor residual tumor cells after surgery and in this way inform whether follow-up chemotherapy treatment is warranted. The researchers propose a pilot study to determine the presence of ctDNA in early-stage breast cancer patients. The data from this pilot project will be used to design a larger follow-up study on the use of ctDNA to inform the need for chemotherapy in this patient population.