Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States. Studies are providing a better understanding of the underlying biology of breast cancer and identifying opportunities for treatments. Researchers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center conducted one such investigation. They analyzed expanded epithelial cells from women with breast cancer who had chemotherapy before their surgery and found significantly altered RNA. In particular, they saw significant changes in genes that had previously been recognized as prognostic indicators for cancer.

“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,” says Priscilla Furth, MD, professor of oncology and medicine at Georgetown Lombardi and corresponding author of the study. “About one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the developed world. 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.”

This research used a conditionally reprogrammed cells (CRC) technique for the initial isolation of epithelial cells that was invented and patented at Georgetown. CRC is the only known system that can indefinitely grow healthy as well as cancer cells; up to a million new cells can be grown in a week. One of the key problems in studying these cells was that epithelial cell cultures were often contaminated with the other cell types, particularly fibroblasts, which grow very quickly in culture while epithelial cells grow a bit slower. Primary tumor cells also can be difficult to isolate, but the researchers had increased success using the CRC technique compared to conventional methods.

“Many of our cancer survivors say to me, ‘Please do work that will benefit my daughter.’ My response is, that’s why I’m in the field of cancer prevention,” says Furth. “Anything we can do to prevent the occurrence or recurrence of cancer is a significant step forward, and we think this finding may be an important contribution to reducing misdiagnosis, as well as point to ways to develop better therapies to treat the disease.”  


The full study can be read here.

American Cancer Society Breast Cancer resources can be found here.




Photo by Anna Tarazevich