Cancer Treatment Centers of America

New research identifies the molecular mechanisms of breast cancer


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A new study by Danish researchers offers insight into the molecular mechanisms that drive the development of breast cancer. The findings could foster new targeted drugs and treatments tailored to each breast cancer patient.

Published recently in the journal Molecular Cell, the study identifies the cell receptor known as FGFR2b as having a role in the growth and spread of breast cancer.

The surface of every cell in the human body is dotted with receptors that allow for communication with the outside world. Like all types of communication, things can go awry. In the human body, this miscommunication can lead to cancer.

The researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark used state-of-the-art technology to study the effects of two cellular signaling proteins on the FGFR2b receptor. When binding with FGFR2b, one of the signaling proteins affects cell division and while the other controls cell movement.

Both processes are important for the development of healthy cells. But when misfires with the FGFR2b receptor occur, these processes can result in cancer cell growth and mestases. 

FGFR2b is involved in the development of internal organs in the embryo, particularly the lungs. Miscommunication between the two proteins studied and the FGFR2b receptor can impede the normal development of lung tissue. The Danish researchers say this miscommunication has a role in certain types of breast cancer, as well.

The FGFR2b receptor, then, could become a new biomarker for diagnosing and treating breast cancer and other cancers.

Dr. Dennis Citrin, a medical oncologist at CTCA outside Chicago, says the work of the Danish scientists won’t have an immediate clinical application.

Understanding a patient’s breast cancer at the molecular level is important for determining the most appropriate treatment. In the past few years, physicians have begun looking at the molecular subtypes of breast cancer:

  • Luminal A: Grows with the help of estrogen and/or progesterone, and does not typically respond well to chemotherapy
  • Luminal B: Grows with the help of estrogen and/or progesterone, and typically requires more aggressive treatment
  • Triple Negative/Basal-Like: A more aggressive type that is not fueled by estrogen, progesterone or the HER2 protein, and typically responds well to chemotherapy
  • HER2-Enriched: The HER2 protein is responsible for its growth and it responds to drug treatment for HER2

Breast cancer patients at CTCA undergo a core needle biopsy, which is sent to lab technicians to characterize their specific type of breast cancer.

“It allows us to recognize that every patient's tumor is different,” Dr. Citrin says. “We are tailoring treatment to the specific molecular subtypes of breast cancer.”