New Tool for Predicting Breast Cancer Recurrence

Immune system could hold key to preventing breast cancer relapse

(RxWiki News) Breast cancer patients may currently have genetic testing that predicts the possibility of the disease returning. These tests examine the genes in the tumor itself. Now there's a new way to look into the future.

A new immune system biomarker (gene indicating presence of disease) has been discovered that can predict the risk of breast cancer recurring. This new technology may lead to more personalized treatment of the disease.

"Knowing the risk could lead to ways to prevent breast cancer returning."

"We know that the body initiates an immune response when it detects cancer, and immune system cells are usually present at the site of the tumor," says the study's lead researcher, Masoud Manjili, D.V.M., Ph.D. assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center.

"Our test differs from currently-used tests by looking for a biological response to the presence of cancer, and not relying on genes expressed by the actual cancer cells."

This is the first study to examine so-called "tumor infiltrating immune cells." Researchers found that the presence of a specific "five-gene signature" related to tumor infiltrating cells can accurately predict relapse-free survival.

The two tests currently used to predict the risk of breast cancer recurrence - the Oncotype DX and MammaPrint panel - both examine the genes in the tumor cells themselves.

Manjili says this work could lead to clinical trials that test if immunotherapy could be used with patients who have a high risk of recurrence. This therapy would be used before conventional treatments and "could prime the patients' immune system, much like a vaccine," Manjili explains.

The study analyzed tissue specimens collected from female breast cancer patients and maintained in the VCU Massey Cancer Center Tissue & Data Acquisition and Analysis Core (TDAAC) over the past seven years. Data from 17 patients was studied. Of those, eight relapsed within five years and nine remained cancer free.

The five-gene signature was accurate 85 percent of the time in predicting relapse.

Additional studies will include studying tissue samples from a larger patient population to confirm these findings. Manjili and his team also plan to test the results in a long-term study of breast cancer patients undergoing treatment.

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Review Date: 
May 23, 2011