New method for predicting the success of breast cancer therapy provides more certainty

In a collaboration with the Faculty of Statistics at TU Dortmund and the University Medical Center in Mainz, a research team at the Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors in Dortmund (IfADo) has developed a test that can be used to predict the success of therapy for breast cancer.

Laboratory analysis of the biopsy tissue taken. Photo: ThisisEngineering RAEng/

Breast cancer is one of the most common tumour diseases worldwide. One in eight women will develop it in the course of their lives. Even though the success of treatment has improved in recent decades, one in 39 women still dies of breast cancer. This makes breast cancer the second most common cause of death among tumour diseases in women, only lung cancer is more frequent.

Breast cancer is often treated with so-called neoadjuvant chemotherapy. This serves to first reduce the size of a locally advanced tumour so that it can be operated on more easily. The chance of a cure depends very much on how well the patients respond to the neoadjuvant therapy. With previous methods, it was only possible to predict the success of the therapy inaccurately.

Test can predict therapy success

In cooperation with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at University Medical Center in Mainz and the Faculty of Statistics at TU Dortmund, an IfADo research team in the Department of Toxicology has succeeded in developing a test that can be used to predict the response of the therapy (neoadjuvant chemotherapy). The tests used biopsy tissue that is routinely taken from breast cancer, so that all genes expressed in the tumour tissue are included in the procedure. The predictive test was developed in 114 patients and then validated in 619 independent patients. The method was recently published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

The negative predictive value of the test is 0.986. This means that at least 98 out of 100 women with a negative test result will actually have a tumour that responds poorly to the therapy. Such a prediction is important when new drugs are being developed. If it is possible to predict the failure of a particular type of therapy, alternatives can be considered for individual patients.

Illustration of gene expression in breast cancer in a heat map
Illustration of gene expression in breast cancer in a heat map: Each column shows the data of one patient. The rows represent how strongly individual genes are read in breast cancer. Red means that a gene is strongly expressed, whereas blue indicates weak expression. The calculation rule developed can be used to determine whether a patient responds well to neoadjuvant therapy (pCR) or not (non-pCR). Photo: IfADo


Edlund K, Madjar K, Lebrecht A, Aktas B, Pilch H, Hoffmann G, Hofmann M, Kolberg HC, Boehm D, Battista M, Seehase M, Stewen K, Gebhard S, Cadenas C, Marchan R, Brenner W, Hasenburg A, Koelbl H, Solbach C, Gehrmann M, Tanner B, Weber KE, Loibl S, Sachinidis A, Rahnenführer J, Schmidt M, Hengstler JG. Gene Expression-Based Prediction of Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy Response in Early Breast Cancer: Results of the Prospective Multicenter EXPRESSION Trial. Clin Cancer Res. 2021 Feb 4. DOI: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-20-2662


Scientific Contact IfADo: 
Prof. Dr. med. Jan G. Hengstler
Head of Department Toxicology
Phone: +49 231 1084-348

Contact TU Dortmund:
Prof. Dr. Jörg Rahnenführer
Phone: +49 231 755-3121

Contact University Medical Center Mainz:
Prof. Dr. med. Marcus Schmidt
Phone: +49 6131 17-6884

Press contact IfADo:
Anne Rommel
Press Officer
Phone: +49 231 1084-239