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Potential shown in breast cancer biomarker

by British Journal of Cancer | News

10 June 2009

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SCIENTISTS have found a new biomarker that can predict the outcome of breast cancers that have spread to the lymph nodes, reveal findings published in the British Journal of Cancer today (Wednesday).

Scientists from the René Gauducheau Cancer Centre in France took samples from 92 women who had surgery for lymph node positive breast cancer – where cancer cells had spread to the armpit area – and compared the amount of a protein called UBE2C with the outcome of the patients over a five year period. They found that high levels of the protein were linked to a more aggressive tumour.

It is hoped that the protein UBE2C could be developed into a test to help doctors predict what treatment works best for women with this form of breast cancer and enable scientists to identify drugs to target the protein.

Dr Pascal Jézéquel, who led the study from the René Gauducheau Cancer Centre said: “Previous studies have alerted us to the presence of UBE2C in certain particularly aggressive cancers, so we wanted to understand how reliable an indication high levels of the UBE2C protein was in predicting the likelihood of the cancer returning after treatment.

“This study shows that the protein gives us a very reliable indication of the aggressiveness of disease.”

Dr Jézéquel continued: “The UBE2C protein appears to be linked to a process called the proteasome system, which when it goes wrong, can drive this type of cancer. So, we believe that the chemotherapy drug bortezomib (Velcade), which is designed to block proteasome activity, could work against this form of the disease.

“If this is shown to work in clinical trials, it could open the door to more effective treatments for a group of patients who are served less well by existing therapies.”

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “We no longer see people with breast cancer as belonging to a single group because we now know there are many different forms of the disease. Personalising treatments in this way enables doctors to decide what treatment is likely to have the best effect to improve survival and avoid unnecessary treatment.

“The next stage will be to see if this protein can be used as a predictive biomarker by doctors to decide how best to treat this group of patients and to see how useful it will be.”


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 Loussouarn, D., Campion, L., Leclair, F., Campone, M., Charbonnel, C., Ricolleau, G., Gouraud, W., Bataille, R., & Jézéquel, P. (2009). Validation of UBE2C protein as a prognostic marker in node-positive breast cancer British Journal of Cancer DOI: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6605122