Study Results Help Define New Factors That Can Predict Breast Cancer Recurrence


Discovery has the potential to also benefit treatment choices, investigators from Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center say.

Genetic and other factors can be used to determine if a woman is at risk for a recurrence of breast cancers, according to investigators at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The discovery was made with advanced technology developed at Georgetown Lombardi, which allows investigators to expand or multiply hard-to-extract breast cancer tissues.

The findings were published in Scientific Reports.

“When a person is diagnosed with breast cancer, we have several tools, including testing for genes such as BRCA1/2, to decide whether they should get certain kinds of chemotherapy or just receive hormonal therapy. But the tools we have are not as precise as we would like,” Priscilla Furth, MD, professor of oncology and medicine at Georgetown Lombard, said in a statement.

“We hope that our findings will help lead to more precise and directed screening in the future, sparing women unneeded procedures as we currently screen almost all women between the ages of 40 to 70, sometimes very aggressively,” Furth said.

Investigators focused on breast epithelial cells, which are the cells that form the ducts and lobes that make milk during lactation. They extracted cells from donated non-cancerous tissue in the same breast as the one with cancerous tissues that was removed during a mastectomy.

The investigators looked for factors that could influence recurrence, but their main objective was the collection of RNA sequences in the cell, which could help determine when and where each gene is turned on or off in a cell.

Even with surgical techniques improving, sometimes microscopic pieces of tumors remain, which is the reason for recurrence of breast cancer in up to 15% of women, according to the statement.

When investigators analyzed epithelial cells from women who had chemotherapy before their surgery, investigators found that their RNA was significantly altered. Particularly, they found that significant changes were in genes that had previously recognized as prognostic indicators for cancer.

Additionally, investigators saw that there are implications for women who had not had breast cancer, as some of the RNA altercations were linked to mammary stem cell formation. These cells are adult stem cells that can differentiate, or change functions, into specialized mammary epithelial cells. If the cells dysregulate, there is an increased potential for cancer.

Cells from pregnant women were of particular interest to the investigators, because pregnancy triggers extra renewing cycles in cells, increasing the risk of cancer.

The study used conditionally reprogrammed cells (CRC) fir the initial isolation of epithelial cells. CRC is the only system that can indefinitely build healthy as well as cancer cells.

Investigators noted that one of the key problems in studying these cells was that epithelial cell cultures were often contaminated with other cell types, particularly fibroblast, which grow very quickly while epithelial cells grow slower.

Primary tumor cells can be difficult to isolate, but investigators had increased success using the CRC technique compared with conventional methods.

The CRC technique was invented and patented by Georgetown.


New factors that can predict breast cancer recurrence defined. EurekAlert. News release. April 22, 2022. Accessed April 22, 2022.

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