Scientists find groups of genes associated with different types and stages of breast cancer

A method of rapidly scanning thousands of genes has revealed groups of genes associated with different types and stages of breast cancer. Some genes also appear to be able to indicate womens chances of survival, the 3rd European Breast Cancer Conference heard on Saturday 23 March.

Dr Christos Sotiriou, head of the the microarray facility at the Jules Bordet Institute, Free University of Brussels, Belgium, told the conference that his multinational group had collaborated with Dr Adrian Harris (Oxford) and the National Cancer Institute (USA), to study samples from 99 patients whose clinical outcome was known. Using a microchip containing fragments of 7600 genes (a microarray) they analysed patients RNAs to identify which genes were related to known tumour and/or patient characteristics (such as whether the oestrogen receptor were positive or negative, tumour size and grade, lymph node involvement and menopausal status).

They found patterns of gene activity that were strongly associated with whether the oestrogen receptors were positive or negative, and moderately associated with tumour grade. It was more difficult to find genes associated with menopausal status, nodal status and tumour size.

By analysing how the entire group of genes in the study behaved, the researchers were also able to define new subgroups of patients. This may help them to characterise more successfully the nature and behaviour of the tumours.

Importantly, these subgroups were associated with sets of genes possibly predictive of the chances of a woman surviving breast cancer and surviving without a relapse.

Dr Sotiriou said: The genes we found appear to work in a number of ways, through a variety of molecular pathways. We are still investigating these pathways and we are carrying out further investigations on a number of candidate genes associated with better clinical outcome.

Our results need to be confirmed by looking at a different and bigg

Contact: Emma Mason
Federation of European Cancer Societies

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