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Genetic Test Could Help Spot Breast Cancer

New research suggests that within the cell nucleus, chromosomes and individual genes occupy specific locations relative to one another. The organization of these bodies can change for many reasons, but one of them is cancer. 

Researchers from the U.S. National Cancer Institute have honed in on several genes that have a different physical position inside the nucleus in invasive breast cancer cells than in normal breast tissue cells. A change in the position of one gene in particular, HES5, predicted invasive breast cancer nearly all of the time, they found.

The discovery suggests that looking at three-dimensional properties of the cell could one day be used as a new method of diagnosing breast cancer.  Some 1.4 million new cancer cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S., according to the American Association for Critical Illness Insurance.  Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women.

The study published online in the Journal of Cell Biology reports that  while breast tumors are typically detected by a mammogram, which is basically an X-ray of the breast.  The other way of detection occurs when a woman or her doctor feels a lump. To determine if the mass is cancerous or benign, a doctor would order a biopsy, which involves the removal of a small tissue sample that is then analyzed by a pathologist. 

Using 11 normal human breast tissue samples and 14 invasive cancer tissue samples, the researchers identified eight genes that were frequently repositioned in cancer specimens. They found that the repositioning of the gene HES5 indicated breast cancer in nearly all samples. 

Previous research had implicated HES5 with cancer, according to background information in the study. In the new study, the researchers also found that changes in the location of several other combinations of two or three genes also indicated cancer with high accuracy.

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