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Researchers Identify Genes Tied to Breast Cancer That Spreads to the Brain

Seema Sethi MDSeema Sethi, MDResearchers have identified the epigenetic markers that determine whether breast cancer will spread to the brain, which could lead to earlier diagnoses and more effective treatment, suggests a study being presented on September 20 at ASCP 2013 Chicago, the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP).

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer and the second most common cause of cancer death among US women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some breast cancers are more likely to spread beyond the breast (metastasize), including to the brain Currently, physicians don’t have a clear picture at diagnosis regarding which breast cancers are likely to metastasize to the brain and which are not. Encouragingly, researchers have recently identified molecular markers called micro ribonucleic acids (RNAs) as potentially playing a role.

“Survival rates are low once breast cancer metastasizes to the brain,” says Seema Sethi, MD, a resident at Wayne State University and Detroit Medical Center, and lead author of the study. “This research will help us develop targeted therapies so we can more aggressively treat patients with this form of breast cancer.”

Researchers extracted micro RNA from the tumors of 90 women with breast cancer, including 45 whose cancer had metastasized to the brain and 45 whose cancer had not. After analyzing the data, researchers found that several micro RNAs were significantly altered in patients whose breast cancer had spread to the brain. They also identified several target genes involved in the process.

“Micro RNAs are novel, tiny molecules within the cells, which regulate several downstream genes,” Sethi notes. “They affect the behavior of cancer cells. Modulating the micro RNAs offers a unique opportunity of possible molecular-targeted intervention to prevent metastases and improve patient survival for personalized medicine.”

Researchers believe these micro RNAs and their target genes could help identify which breast cancers eventually will metastasize to the brain when the cancer is first diagnosed and determine the course of therapy, including how aggressive treatment should be. Through personalized medicine, targeted therapies and specific treatment options would be available, depending on each patient’s medical history and epigenetic markers.

[Source: ASCP]