King’s researchers working in the innovation hub at the pioneering Guy’s Cancer Centre have identified a set of genes that could be used as an indicator for patients who are more prone to developing metastatic breast cancer.
By identifying those patients at the highest risk, treatments could be adjusted or further developed in order to reduce the risk of the cancer returning.
For many breast cancer patients, cancer does not return once treated. However, some patients are at risk of developing metastatic breast cancer (secondary or advanced breast cancer).
This type of cancer occurs when tiny breast cancer cells left behind after treatment spread through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to other parts of the body including the lungs, bones or liver. At this advanced stage, the cancer is incurable but may be controlled for many years with treatment.
The Cancer Bioinformatics group use mathematical methods and algorithms to understand the interplay between tumours, genes and the immune system. This most recent study examined samples from over 5000 patients in the King’s Health Partners biobank and included long term follow up with over 1500 patients who developed secondary breast cancer.
The researchers were able to identify genetic patterns in breast cancers of those patients who developed rapidly secondary breast cancer in multiple organs.
It is hoped that these patterns will allow clinicians to more quickly identify those patients who are at risk of developing secondary breast cancer and adjust treatment plans to minimise that risk. This could include more regular check-ups or the use of more aggressive treatments, such as chemotherapy, at the initial stages of cancer.
Speaking about the research, senior author Dr Anita Grigoriadis, Lecturer in Cancer Bioinformatics, said: ‘It’s a significant development to be able to work towards a way of identifying those patients that are most at risk of developing advanced forms of breast cancer.
‘Identifying those at risk is the first stage to developing better treatments and treatment plans that could reduce the risk of cancer developing and, ultimately, help save lives.’
For more information about the Guy’s Cancer Centre please visit the website.
‘Gene expression modules in primary breast cancers as risk factors for organotropic patterns of first metastatic spread: a case control study’ is published in Breast Cancer Research