Physicians learned in 1896 that removal of the ovaries produces striking remissions in many women with recurrent metastatic breast cancer. But, until recently, there was no way to predict which women would benefit from this operation, that is, which tumors depend on estrogen for growth and thus have receptors for the hormone.
Now, after 15 years of work in many laboratories, the estrogen receptor assay and its place in the management of recurrent breast cancer have been evaluated at a consensus development conference sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.
The consensus panel concluded that results of the assay correlate well with patients' response to endocrine therapy. In addition, since it is often impossible to obtain an adequate metastatic tissue sample at the time of recurrence, panel members "strongly recommended" determining the estrogen receptor status of all primary breast tumors at the time of surgery.
As to how assay results