Scientists have moved a step closer to being able to predict the likelihood that very early tumours will develop into full-blown breast cancer, according to new research.
A team looking at the relationship between early breast cancer tumours and more advanced forms of the disease has discovered a potential way to separate patients according to their risk and offer tailored treatment as a result.
The most common form of non-invasive, or early, breast cancer is ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and occurs when cancer cells develop in the milk ducts but have not yet spread to the surrounding breast tissue.
There are around 5,000 cases diagnosed every year in the UK, half of which it is estimated will develop into invasive breast cancer.
Scientists at the Northern Ireland Molecular Pathology Laboratory at Queen’s University Belfast identified biomarkers which showed promise for predicting which cases were linked to invasive disease, and potential treatments which could be used to target the biomarkers they found to be significantly associated with breast cancer.
The study, funded by Cancer Research UK, could mean women with DCIS considered to be at a high risk of developing breast cancer would be offered more intensive treatment.
Likewise those thought to be at a lower risk would be given the option to have more conservative treatment.
Dr Richard Berks, senior research communications officer at Breast Cancer Now, said the research is vital to helping improve knowledge on which cases are likely to progress.
He said: “What could happen from research like this in the future is that a patient might go to their doctor to get their DCIS checked out and if they find out there is a high chance that their tumour is going to become something life-threatening they can treat it, but if it appears the DCIS is not going to progress they can monitor it without treatment.”
Dr Niamh Buckley, a Breast Cancer Now scientific fellow, said the findings could lead to better breast cancer care.
She said: “Increased knowledge of the molecular profile of non-invasive cancers can only serve to enhance our understanding of the disease and, in an era of personalised medicine, can only bring us closer to improving breast cancer care.
“Our findings require further validation through clinical trials but we believe that the use of biomarkers could pave the way to a significant improvement in the management of non-invasive breast cancer.”
Dr Berks added: “It’s these types of studies that will feed in to the future development of a whole new generation of post-diagnosis testing that could tell a clinician exactly how to treat an individual patient to achieve the best possible outcome for them.”