Researchers shed new light on how breast cancer spreads to other organs at an early stage

A consultant who analyzes a mammogram.

Rui Vieira | PA wire | Getty Images

Researchers have shed new light on how breast cancer spreads to other organs at an early stage undetected, which can cause deadly metastatic cancer in some women years later.

Before a breast cancer tumor is even detected, cells that are not yet malignant can spread to other organs where they lie dormant and do not replicate, according to new research led by Maria Soledad Sosa, a professor at the Mount Sinai Tisch Cancer Institute in New York. York City.

The NR2F1 gene usually prevents pre-malignant cells from spreading to other parts of the body.

Sosa and a team of researchers found that a cancer gene, HER2, suppresses the NR2F1 gene, allowing pre-cancer cells to move to other organs in the body where they can become carcinogenic.

“Evidence suggests that even before a primary tumor is detectable, you may have cells that also spread to secondary organs, and they may eventually form metastases as well,” Sosa said. The lungs, bones, and brain are common sites where breast cancer metastasizes or spreads.

The team’s research was published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Cancer Research. The laboratory test was performed using samples of an early form of breast cancer known as ductal carcinoma in situ or DCIS, as well as cancerous lesions from mice.

Sosa, the study’s lead author, said that understanding the mechanism that allows pre-malignant cells to spread throughout the body may one day help determine which women are at higher risk for breast cancer recurrence. If a patient exhibits low levels of NR2F1, it may be a sign that dormant cancer cells are spreading in the body, where they can later reactivate and cause disease.

The results of the study may have an impact on how women diagnosed with DCIS are treated. DCIS is an abnormal cell growth in the lining of the breast milk duct that has not developed into a malignant tumor. DCIS is traditionally considered non-invasive, meaning that the abnormal cells have not yet spread. However, research from Sosa’s team and others challenges this view.

More than 51,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with DCIS this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Many women diagnosed with DCIS undergo either surgery or radiation or both. However, women diagnosed with DCIS who are undergoing these treatments still have about a 3% chance of dying from breast cancer 20 years after their diagnosis, according to a groundbreaking study published in Jama Oncology in 2015.

More than 150 women in the study who had their breasts removed still died of cancer, meaning the disease had probably spread at the time of discovery. The researchers concluded that the classification of DCIS as non-invasive should be reconsidered and warned that some cases of the carcinoma have an inherent potential for remote spread to other parts of the body.

“Even if they perform the operation of DCIS or sometimes it is treated with radiation therapy, the mortality does not change. This tells you that it does not matter what is there in your primary location,” Sosa said. The problem is that the abnormal cells spread from the carcinoma, she said.

CNBC Health & Science

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