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Boost for breast cancer research

05 March 2015 09:41

A new study has shed light on breast cancer

A new study has shed light on breast cancer

Women who are suffering the most hostile forms of breast cancer could be successfully diagnosed through new stem cell testing, British scientists believe.

Identifying how closely patients' cancer cells look like stem cells could hold the key.

The Cardiff University-based European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute, together with King's College London, made the link.

They discovered that cancers with gene activity patterns resembling those of stem cells go on to have a higher chance of dispersing elsewhere in the body.

This offers the potential of singling out people who may require intensive medical care to stop the breast cancer spreading or recurring.

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What are adult stem cells?

These are the body's healthy cells which can carry on dividing as well as taking the place of tired cells in regions including the breast, skin or gut.

They are able to do this because they are not specialist cells.

What did the research involve?

The researchers pinpointed 323 genes which may be possible targets for future breast cancer drugs.

They compared these with tumour genetic profiles from 579 patients suffering the so-called triple-negative form of breast cancer.

This is especially hard to treat and accounts for about one in six such cancers.

These types are hard to give treatment to because anti-hormonal therapy and other treatments are unsuitable.

Patients who had particularly high stem cell gene activity were six times more likely to suffer a relapse than people who had low stem cell gene activity, it was discovered.

The former group's triple-negative breast cancer assumes stem cell characteristics, including self-regeneration to assist in their spread and growth.

What the scientists say

The institute's deputy director Matthew Smalley expressed the team's "excitement" at the discovery.

Dr Smalley said it is especially key to realise the genetic considerations which assist the cancer's dispersal around the human body.

The British Cancer Research journal has published the research.