An international study, led by Uppsala University (Sweden), has uncovered genetic abnormalities in otherwise healthy breast cells that could result in an increased risk for nonfamilial breast cancer. The work was published recently in the journal Genome Research.
Approximately 10% of women in the Western world will develop breast cancer in their lives. The majority of cases are sporadic, rather than hereditary, resulting from mutations that have accumulated across a lifetime.
Although early detection is key to the successful treatment of cancers, there is no reliable method to predict risk for sporadic breast cancer among women. This type of breast cancer is most often detected by women themselves, as a lump in the breast, or during mammography examinations.
The international research group, however, have discovered genetic alterations within some healthy breast cells that could correlate with an increased risk for sporadic breast cancer.
Jan Dumanski (Uppsala University) explained: “We examined tissue samples that were located far away from the tumor and had been taken at the same time as a breast tumor had been removed. The tissues did not contain any tumor cells and looked like completely normal breast tissue. But when we analyzed the DNA in these tissues we found that they contained genetic aberrations in well-known cancer genes, even though they appeared normal in the microscope.”
The research has shown that sporadic breast cancer develops over many year before producing a tumor. The genetic ‘signatures’ the researchers have uncovered might facilitate the early detection of sporadic breast cancers or even predict healthy individuals at a high risk of being affected.
“The mutated genes create an altered protein pattern on the cells’ surface, which could be used to detect those particular cells. This opens up possibilities to develop diagnostic methods that could identify women who are at risk for developing breast cancer, before the tumor is formed and much earlier than it can be detected by e.g. mammography,” concluded Dumanski.