Major Breast Cancer Breakthrough

Discovery may lead to better treatment of breast cancer

(RxWiki News) Scientists in England have uncovered new genes associated with the most common form of breast cancer. This discovery could lead to new ways to treat or prevent this particular type of cancer.

Researchers at the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) discovered three genes that are linked to estrogen-receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer, the most common form of the disease. About 60 percent of all breast cancers are ER+.

"Discovery could lead to better ways to treat breast cancer."

ER+ breast cancers have what's known as estrogen receptors on the cancer cells themselves. These estrogen receptors feed off the hormone estrogen to grow and multiply.

The estrogen receptor has been studied for years and is well understood. Study author Dr. Anita Dunbier said: “This is a surprising discovery. We found these genes in a place we thought we knew a lot about - it is like finding gold in Trafalgar Square."

Because they live on estrogen, most ER+ cancers are treated with anti-estrogen therapies, such as tamoxifen. These medicines work by blocking off estrogen - the cancer cells’ nourishment.

The genes identified in this research, work close to but separately from the estrogen receptor. That means these genes probably don't respond to current treatments such as tamoxifen.

So this discovery may help women who have ER+ breast cancer but don't do well with tamoxifen and other estrogen-blocking medications.

Professor Mitch Dowsett, who leads the team at the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at the ICR, said: “This research is exciting because it shows that while the estrogen receptor is the main driver of hormonal breast cancer, there are others next door to it that also appear to influence breast cancer behavior. We now need to better understand how they work together and how we can utilize them to save lives of women with breast cancer,” he said.

The Study

  • The three genes identified were C6ORF96, C6ORF97 and C6ORF211
  • C6ORF211 was shown to drive the growth of tumors, and is the most likely target for new treatments
  • C6ORF97 indicated the tumor was not coming back and was also a good predictor of response to tamoxifen
  • C6ORF96 is the least understood and will be researched further

One in eight women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer at some point in her lifetime. In 2010, an estimated 207,090 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 54,010 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.

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Review Date: 
May 4, 2011