Study: Better to catch breast cancer early

Breast cancer cells that spread to other parts of the body break off and leave the primary tumor at late stages of disease development -- further reason to catch breast cancer early, according to a U.K. study published August 14 in Cancer Cell.

Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge investigated how breast cancer evolves from the original tumor to metastasized disease by sequencing the DNA of 299 tumors from 170 patients with cancer that either recurred or spread.

A team led by Dr. Lucy Yates found that most of the genetic changes in the original breast tumor were also present in the metastatic tumors, suggesting that the cancer cells spread late in disease development. The group also found that in the time between breast cancer patients being diagnosed with primary cancer and the diagnosis of metastasis, breast cancer cells had undergone genetic changes that increased the tumor's aggressiveness (Cancer Cell, Vol. 32:2, pp. 169-184).

It all points to the importance of early detection, according to joint lead author Dr. Peter Campbell.

"We provide a good rationale for continuing to improve methods for detecting breast cancer sooner," Campbell said in a statement released by the institute. "These results show the power of genetic sequencing in understanding metastatic breast cancer and open the door to personalized treatment for breast cancer in the future."

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