Molecular Residual Disease in Breast Cancer: Detection and Therapeutic Interception | Clinical Cancer Research

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Breast cancer remains a leading cause of cancer-related death in women despite screening and therapeutic advances. Early detection allows for resection of local disease; however, patients can develop metastatic recurrences years after curative treatment. There is no reliable blood-based monitoring after curative therapy, and radiographic evaluation for metastatic disease is performed only in response to symptoms. Advances in circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) assays have allowed for a potential option for blood-based monitoring. The detection of ctDNA in the absence of overt metastasis or recurrent disease indicates molecular evidence of cancer, defined as molecular residual disease (MRD). Multiple studies have shown that MRD detection is strongly associated with disease recurrence, with a lead time prior to clinical evidence of recurrence of many months. Importantly, it is still unclear whether treatment changes in response to ctDNA detection will improve outcomes. There are currently ongoing trials evaluating the efficacy of therapy escalation in the setting of MRD, and these studies are being conducted in all major breast cancer subtypes. Additional therapies under study include CDK4/6 inhibitors, PARP inhibitors, HER2-targeted therapies, and immunotherapy. This review will summarize the underlying scientific principles of various MRD assays, their known prognostic roles in early breast cancer, and the ongoing clinical trials assessing the efficacy of therapy escalation in the setting of MRD.

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