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Published on October 04, 2016

The Oncotype DX Test: What Is It?

You may have heard of the Oncotype DX Test and its use in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. But you’re very possibly wondering what exactly is it, and how is it used? It’s an impressive-sounding name for an equally impressive technology that gives doctors a better understanding of an individual’s breast cancer.

About the Oncotype DX Test

“The Oncotype DX Test is a unique diagnostic test that measures a group of cancer-related genes in the breast tumor tissue, allowing us to study the tumor’s biology,” said Stefania Nolano, DO, associate director, Breast Program at Abington-Jefferson Health.

The Oncotype DX Test is called a genomic test – a genetic test for tumor cells. It allows the doctor to learn about the tumor’s DNA and mutations that are allowing the tumor to grow. The result of the test provides doctors with very important information to guide how a patient’s individual breast cancer will be treated.

“The comprehensive 21-gene assay that is part of the Oncotype DX Test gives a Recurrence Score,” said Dr. Nolano. “An individual score will be between 0 and 100.”

A lower Recurrence Score means the breast cancer is less likely to come back within 10 years, and the patient is therefore less likely to benefit from chemotherapy. A higher Recurrence Score result means the breast cancer is more likely to come back within 10 years, and the patient is more likely to benefit from chemotherapy.

How the Test Works

“The test is performed on a small amount of the tumor tissue that is removed during the patient’s surgery – either lumpectomy, mastectomy, or core biopsy,” said Dr. Nolano. The Oncotype DX Test does not require the patient to have any additional surgery or procedure.

Most results are available within a week to 10 days from the date the tumor sample is received by the laboratory that analyzes it. The next step is that the physician will discuss the results with the patient and tailor a treatment plan specifically for her.

Who is a Candidate for the Test?

The Oncotype DX Test is not right for every patient. Depending on the type of cancer, other tests may work better. However, the Oncotype DX Test may be right for patients who fall into either of these categories:

  • Newly diagnosed with early stage invasive breast cancer that is “estrogen receptor positive” (ER+) and “human epidermal growth factor receptor negative” (HER2-).
  • Pre- or post-menopausal and lymph node negative (N-). If you are post-menopausal and lymph node positive (N+), the test is done on selective patients.

The Oncotype DX Test is covered by Medicare and by most private insurance companies. In addition, Genomic Health offers the Genomic Access Program (GAP), to help with determining insurance coverage and providing financial assistance when needed.

For more information about breast cancer treatment, contact our dedicated breast nurse navigator at
1-800-405-HELP or

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Breast Cancer Genetic Counseling

Free risk assessment and counseling for those concerned about breast cancer in their family; also for ovarian, colorectal and uterine cancers. Contact the nurse genetic counselor at 215-481-2715 for more information.

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Free or low-cost breast cancer screenings are offered throughout the year as a community service. For a schedule of dates, contact Community Health Education at 215-481-2204.