New way to detect most dangerous form of breast cancer

A new technique for detecting one of the deadliest forms of breast cancer could also lead to a breakthrough in its treatment, a US study has found. 

The study by the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) looked at basal-like breast cancer (BLBC), which is non-responsive to most common treatments.  


Hard to identify

Previously, it was difficult to identify specific markers for this aggressive cancer, which has held back the development of targeted treatments. 

BLBC is more likely to spread to different areas of the body faster and earlier than other forms of breast cancer. 

The survival rates are often low. It is common in women under 40, especially African-American women. 

So far, there has been little success in treating it, especially once it has spread.


Molecule could hold the answer

The Boston researchers, along with a team at the University of Cyprus, analysed publically-available data on patients, and found a specific molecule was common in late-stage BLBC. 

This means they can potentially predict survival rates depending on whether the cancer cells have high levels of the molecule. 

It was also discovered that a subtype of the cancer, which quickly spreads to the lungs, has very high levels of this molecule.

If the researchers are able to reduce the levels of the molecule in the cancer cells, they predict it could lead to a slower growth rate for the tumour.  

The study also predicts these altered cancer cells would not spread to the lungs as easily.


Glimmer of hope

Sam Thiagalingam, associate professor at BUSM, says the study offers a “glimmer of hope” that personalised therapies can be developed by targeting the cancer cells that have high levels of the molecule. 

It is hoped the research can also be applied to cancers of the brain, pancreas, ovaries and colon, as they also have high levels of this specific molecule.   

The research team did warn, though, it is early days and more needs to be done to develop a therapy.

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