Gene discovery could spare women unnecessary breast cancer treatment

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Breast cancer
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Researchers have identified a gene that can predict who is at risk for breast cancer recurrence.
Scientists from McGill University’s Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Research Centre (GCRC), the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI MUHC), the Dana–Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School say a blood test could be used to personalize breast cancer treatment.

A type of breast cancer known as “estrogen receptor positive/lymph node negative (ER+/LR-)” that is at low risk of relapse. With the exception of a minority of women, the only treatment needed is surgery. The researchers explain understanding specific types of breast cancer by identifying the CUX1 signature gene would identify women in need of aggressive breast cancer treatment with chemotherapy.

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Dr. Alain Nepveu, GCRC and RI MUHC researcher and co-author of the study explains, "Since many treatments are associated with short- and long-term complications including premature menopause, cardiotoxicity and the development of secondary cancers, risks must be balanced against the potential benefit for each patient to avoid unnecessary suffering, needless expense and added burdens on the health-care system."

He explains the blood test would allow oncologists to identify women at very low risk for breast cancer relapse and for whom chemotherapy could be withheld.

Dr. Nepveu says the blood test could be developed within 5 years. Identifying the gene signature associated with type of breast cancer could predict which treatment is needed for women with breast cancer, sparing women unnecessary chemotherapy. The researchers note for years, scientists have been aware that one-size does not fit all.

PNAS: doi: 10.1073/pnas.1008403108
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