Two studies presented at the UK Breast Cancer Research Symposium suggest that research into oestrogen receptors may be critical in treating breast cancer.
It is believed that understanding this may be key to explaining why some forms of breast cancer do not respond adequately to treatment.
The research has already been praised by healthcare experts as groundbreaking, and it is hoped that it will significantly inform the scientific response to the disease going forward.
In the first study, scientists at the University of Pittsburgh analysed non-inherited mutations in the ESRI gene across 122 samples of breast cancer tumours.
Researchers discovered that there are significantly more mutations in secondary samples when this process is conducted.
While it is early to draw firm conclusions on the subject, this nonetheless suggests that primary breast cancers containing ESRI mutations could be an early indication that tumours are resistant to common cancer treatments.
Although scientists are still working to understand the issue, it is hoped eventually that this breakthrough could help doctors understand whether patients will be resistant to certain treatments before cancers become unresponsive to medication.
Further trials are planned to develop this technique still further.
Dr Steffi Oesterreich, who led the research, was enthusiastic about the potential of the study, and explained the results and their significance.
“The ESR1 gene has a very important role in the process by which cancers spread from the breast to elsewhere in the body. Research on the way this gene mutates will help us to identify the cancers which will relapse, and also those which will not respond to our current treatment. It shows how, in the future, new extremely sensitive technologies could give us an ever more detailed picture of what is going on inside a patient’s breast cancer and how the cancer is responding to treatment.”
A second study analysed genetic changes in more than 120,000 women.
Researchers were able to identify five distinctive genetic alterations which could influence the risk of women developing particular forms of breast cancer.
Commenting on the research, Dr Alison Dunning, who led the study, was positive about the potential for treatment that the results indicated.
“All five of the genetic variants we have found near the ESR1 gene affect the levels of oestrogen receptors in breast cells. This seems to indicate that if there are too few or too many oestrogen receptors then the breast cells are more likely to become cancerous.”
The University of Cambridge study discovered that genetic changes in oestrogen receptors can help inform clinicians of the risk of developing breast cancer, and even potentially aid prevention and treatment.
The charity Breast Cancer Now was effusive in its praise for the research, considering the results to be groundbreaking in the understanding and treatment of the debilitating condition.
“Both discoveries relating to the ESR1 gene show great potential to tailor treatment for patients and reveal more about the genetics of breast cancer risk. It is work such as this that will lead to steady improvement in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer in coming years,” chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, Delyth Morgan, commented.