UW-Madison Researchers Find New Subtype of Breast Cancer

Jun 11, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- An alteration in a gene not normally associated with breast cancer has been found in up to 20 percent of breast cancer tumors and may help predict which breast cancers are more likely to turn aggressive and recur, University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have found.

This marks the discovery of a previously unrecognized molecular subtype of breast cancer. Because it appears in about 20 percent of all breast cancer, it could prove as important as the better-known altered version of the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes, which each appear in about five percent of breast cancers.

Writing in the June 10 edition of Public Library of Science Genetics (), a team from the UW Carbone Cancer Center identifies a splice (or a change) in a gene that normally suppresses tumor growth by producing a specific protein (known as RE1 silencing transcription factor or REST).

Lead author Avtar Roopra says that breast cancer tumors with the alteration in the REST gene are much more likely to recur quickly after the initial treatment, and to turn lethal. Breast cancer tumors with the normal form of the REST gene tend to recur, on average, in about 15 percent of cases and over a much longer time frame. But tumors with the altered form of the gene (giving rise to what they call RESTless tumors) are much more aggressive.

"About 50 percent of the women who had breast cancer in which the REST gene was spliced had their cancer return within three years," says Roopra, assistant professor of neurology in the School of Medicine and Public Health. "This gene could prove to be an important diagnostic tool."

Since breast cancer is a common name for many different diseases, the discovery also is an important step in personalized medicine - identifying some of the most aggressive forms of the cancer and suggesting a target to attack with new drugs. Testing breast cancer tumors for whether they are RESTless could help clinicians plan more effective treatment and reduce uncertainty for women desperate for more information.

Matthew Wagoner, a graduate student in the Roopra lab, says the finding will be important to clinicians because it will let them know which patients are more likely to have their cancer recur within a few years.

"What makes breast cancer so difficult to predict is that these tumors appear to the eye to be identical, yet we know that some cancers will come back and some won't," Wagoner says. "This gene could help predict which patients need to be watched more closely for a recurrence of cancer."

The REST gene seems to play a role in both estrogen-sensitive breast cancer and cancers that don't need estrogen to grow.

The gene also plays a role in epilepsy, which is another focus of the Roopra lab. In the nervous system, a normal REST gene produces REST protein which plays a role in how nerve cells develop, differentiate and function. Following an epileptic seizure, the REST gene in the brain undergoes splicing but then returns to normal after one to two days.

"This gives us a potential target for drug therapy because it suggests that the splicing is potentially reversible," Roopra says. "We just have to find a way to tweak it back again."

Roopra says that after his sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, he became curious whether the REST gene played a role. The REST gene controls the action of about 2,000 other genes, by turning them on or off, and some of those affected pointed to the possibility that REST was important in cancer.

Wagoner created a screening tool to see if the altered gene was also present in and discovered it in about 20 percent of breast tumors, which included some of the most aggressive tumors.

Explore further: Team identifies source of most cases of invasive bladder cancer

Related Stories

Herceptin targets breast cancer stem cells

Jul 09, 2008

A gene that is overexpressed in 20 percent of breast cancers increases the number of cancer stem cells, the cells that fuel a tumor's growth and spread, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive ...

Gene variant increases breast cancer risk

Mar 14, 2008

In roughly five to ten percent of breast cancer cases there is a family history of breast cancer– i.e., hereditary and, thus, genetic factors play a role here. Alterations in the genes known as BRCAI and BRCAII are a major ...

Recommended for you

Cancer stem cells linked to drug resistance

5 hours ago

Most drugs used to treat lung, breast and pancreatic cancers also promote drug-resistance and ultimately spur tumor growth. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have discovered ...

Unraveling the 'black ribbon' around lung cancer

Apr 17, 2014

It's not uncommon these days to find a colored ribbon representing a disease. A pink ribbon is well known to signify breast cancer. But what color ribbon does one think of with lung cancer?

User comments : 0

More news stories

Less-schooled whites lose longevity, study finds

Barbara Gentry slowly shifts her heavy frame out of a chair and uses a walker to move the dozen feet to a chair not far from the pool table at the Buford Senior Center. Her hair is white and a cough sometimes interrupts her ...

How to keep your fitness goals on track

(HealthDay)—The New Year's resolutions many made to get fit have stalled by now. And one expert thinks that's because many people set their goals too high.

Low tolerance for pain? The reason may be in your genes

Researchers may have identified key genes linked to why some people have a higher tolerance for pain than others, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual ...

AMA examines economic impact of physicians

(HealthDay)—Physicians who mainly engage in patient care contribute a total of $1.6 trillion in economic output, according to the American Medical Association (AMA)'s Economic Impact Study.

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.