New Developments in Understanding Breast Cancer

New Developments in Understanding Breast Cancer

Posted by Leanne Kodsman on

Much research has emerged recently when it comes to understanding and treating breast cancer. From better detection methods to better treatment options, our understanding of the cause, detection, and treatment of breast cancer is rapidly growing.

Approximately one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her life, and one in thirty women will receive a fatal breast cancer diagnosis. Understanding the ways in which breast cancer metastasizes, how to better detect breast cancer in more treatable stages, and how to effectively treat the cancer while minimizing side effects is an area of research that is seeing significant progress.


Much research has emerged recently when it comes to understanding and treating breast cancer. From better detection methods to better treatment options, our understanding of the cause, detection, and treatment of breast cancer is rapidly growing.

Approximately one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her life, and one in thirty women will receive a fatal breast cancer diagnosis. Understanding the ways in which breast cancer metastasizes, how to better detect breast cancer in more treatable stages, and how to effectively treat the cancer while minimizing side effects is an area of research that is seeing significant progress.

A Protein found in Breast Cancer could be Essential to Metastasis

Investigators at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute and University of Montreal have uncovered an essential protein that, upon deactivation, could prevent aggressive HER2-positive breast cancer from metastasizing. Cancerous tumors develop when cells multiply at an abnormally high rate, clustering in otherwise healthy tissue.

Some of these cancerous cells are especially sneaky - leaving the tumor to move elsewhere in the body, spreading the disease to other healthy tissues and organs. Metastatic cells move throughout the body more easily by detaching from the tumor, entering the bloodstream, and making their way other organs. They are the most difficult cells to destroy, as they are not localized and tend to be more resistant to current treatments.

The researchers demonstrated that the protein AXL influences the occurrence of metastasis in HER2-positive breast cancer. When administering an AXL-inhibiting drug therapy to mice with HER2-positive tumors, metastases were less likely to develop. Further study is needed, but if the studies are successful, this could potentially become a treatment option in breast cancer patients, working as a complement to therapies targeting HER2-positive tumors.

Targeting the Mitochondria of Breast Cancer Cells

A small-molecule drug, called ONC201, is traditionally used to induce transcription of TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) and destroy cancer cells by activating TRAIL death receptors. In breast cancer, however, ONC201 seems to have a different effect.

Independent of TRAIL transcription, investigators report that ONC201 induces cell death via cell stress mechanisms. In human breast cancer lines, researchers found that ONC201 inhibits mitochondrial respiration and induces mitochondrial structural damage. It also reduces the number of mitochondrial DNA copies.

The study also suggests that cancer cells dependent on glycolysis will be resistant to ONC201.

Treating otherwise unresponsive breast cancer with immunotherapy

Modified from adoptive cell transfer (ACT), experimental research uses a high-throughput method to identify mutations in a cancer that are recognized by the immune system. Scientists hope this will lead to the development of a "blueprint" of sorts that can be used for treating many types of cancer.

ACT has been traditionally effective in treating melanoma, which tends to have high levels of acquired mutations. It has been less effective in common epithelial cancers with lower levels of mutations, like breast cancer. Researchers are developing a form of ACT that uses tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) that target mutations to try and shrink tumors in patients with these common epithelial cancers. This process involves growing the selected TILs to large numbers in a laboratory setting, and then infusing them back into the patient (who - in the meantime - has been treated to deplete remaining lymphocytes). This creates a stronger immune response against the tumor.

All cancers have mutations, and the scientific research team hopes that their research will create a "big picture" treatment that is not cancer-type specific. The mutations that cause the cancer could, in fact, become the best targets to treat the cancer.

Using Genetic Testing to Determine Breast Cancer Treatment

A commercially-available 21-gene test could help two of every three women with the most common type of early breast cancer avoid chemotherapy altogether. The new study shows that for women with tumors that are hormone-receptor-positive, HER2-negative, axillary node-negative, and that generate intermediate scores on the 21-gene Oncotype DX recurrence-score assay, hormone therapy is just as effective at preventing disease recurrence as hormone therapy that is coupled with chemotherapy.

While the ongoing trend of prescribing hormone therapy alongside chemotherapy has contributed to the declining rates of mortality for breast cancer, the majority of these patients may be undergoing chemotherapy unnecessarily.

Using the 21-gene assay could identify as many as 85% of women with early breast cancer who could safely skip the immediate chemotherapy, especially women over the age of 50 and with a recurrence score of 25 or lower, and women under the age of 50 with a recurrence score of 15 or lower.

This research is expected to have a big impact on doctors and patients, with the findings greatly expanding the number of patients who are able to safely forego chemotherapy without compromising their outcomes.

Further Reading & References:

Protein in Breast Cancer Found to Be Essential for Metastasis. GEN: Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News. 07 May 2018.

For Breast Cancer, Targeting Mitochondria Could Be Key. GEN: Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News. 09 May 2018.

Breast Cancer Genetic Test May Help Women Forgo Chemotherapy. GEN: Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News. 04 June 2018.

New approach to immunotherapy leads to complete response in breast cancer patient unresponsive to other treatments. Science Daily. 04 June 2018.


Innovative Research was established in 1998 after the realization that dependable, high-quality, and affordable research materials were hard to come by. Starting with core products like human plasma and serum, Innovative Research has grown to be a trusted supplier of all lab reagents, including human biologicals and ELISA kits. Today, we manufacture and supply over 3,000 high-quality human and animal biologicals including plasma, serum, tissues, and proteins.

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    Innovative Research was established in 1998 after the realization that dependable, high-quality, and affordable research materials were hard to come by. Starting with core products like human plasma and serum, Innovative Research has grown to be a trusted supplier of all lab reagents, including human biologicals and ELISA kits. Today, we manufacture and supply thousands of high-quality human and animal biologicals including plasma, serum, tissues, and proteins.


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