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Scientists find genetic links for deadly type of breast cancer

ANN ARBOR---Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center have identified two genes that may control the development of inflammatory breast cancer---an aggressive, often lethal, form of the disease.

The discovery, published in the September 1999 issue of Clinical Cancer Research, is the first report of genetic markers associated with inflammatory breast cancer.

"Only six percent of the 180,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year have inflammatory breast cancer, but they have the least chance of survival," says Sofia D. Merajver, Ph.D., M.D., an associate professor of internal medicine in the U-M Medical School. Merajver directs the Breast and Ovarian Risk Evaluation Clinic at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"Because this type of cancer gives no early warning signs and progresses so rapidly, the tumor is usually at an advanced stage by the time it is diagnosed," she says. "The mean five-year disease-free survival rate is less than 45 percent."

Unlike other types of cancer, inflammatory breast cancer is random and non-hereditary, so discovery of these genes will not help predict who is more likely to develop the disease, according to Merajver, who directed the U-M study. The most immediate benefit will be to physicians who must determine the most effective form of cancer treatment in new patients. The presence of both genetic markers in tumors from newly diagnosed women could be an indication for more aggressive treatment.

"Stage-matched inflammatory and non-inflammatory breast cancer cells look the same under a microscope," says Kenneth L. van Golen, Ph.D., a research fellow in the U-M Medical School, and first author on the study. "To understand why the clinical behavior is so different, we need to look for changes at the molecular level. Our goal is to understand how genetic abnormalities change normal breast tissue into a highly aggressive cancer."

Van Golen and his research team isolated 17
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Contact: Sally Pobojewski
pobo@umich.edu
734-647-1844
University of Michigan
10-Sep-1999


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