Treating precancerous breast cells may prevent onset of cancer

Boston, MA (October 17, 2002) Treating precancerous breast cells with chemopreventive agents, such as tamoxifen, limits the development of breast cancer in genetically predisposed women, according to a study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research's (AACR) annual Frontiers in Cancer Prevention meeting. Precancerous breast cells may also provide an effective mechanism for screening new and current chemopreventive agents.

The study used precancerous breast cells from patients with Li-Fraumeni syndrome (LFS), a hereditary cancer predisposition syndrome associated with a number of childhood cancers and the early onset of breast cancer. Unlike most human cancer cells, LFS cells become cancerous at more measurable rates in vitro (a closed environment, e.g. test tube), and are therefore easier to monitor. Individuals with LFS are at increased risk for developing multiple primary cancers, including soft-tissue sarcoma, breast cancer, leukemia, osteosarcoma, melanoma and colorectal cancers.

"To effectively treat or prevent cancer, it is important to understand the nature of how cells progress into the disease," explained Brittney-Shea Herbert, Ph.D., cell biologist at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, and lead investigator of the study. "Results from human clinical trials take many years to generate so it is imperative that alternate testing forms, such as precancerous cells, be used to determine the effectiveness of precancerous agents."

Treatment of precancerous LFS breast cells with some but not all chemopreventive agents decreased the development of cancer in vitro. The chemopreventive agents used in this study did not negatively affect normal cell growth, nor result in notable side effects from the treatment. Tamoxifen had the strongest effect in preventing the frequency of cell immortalization, at nontoxic levels.

Precancerous cells were treated with tolerable levels of tamoxifen,

Contact: Aimee Frank
American Association for Cancer Research

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