An analysis of almost 4,000 patients with breast cancer found that testing for high activity in a particular gene called alpha beta (αB)-crystallin could pick out women who were at greater risk of developing secondary brain tumours compared to women who tested negative.
An international team, including scientists at BC Cancer Agency, found that women whose breast cancer had begun to spread and who tested positive in the αB-crystallin test were three times more likely to have disease that spread to the brain than those who tested negative.
Women can live for years with breast cancer that has begun to spread around the body – but the exception is brain metastasis, which usually indicates a woman is in her last few months of life.
In the study, the researchers analysed 969 breast cancer tumours which ultimately metastasised to new sites in the body, from a database of almost 4,000 breast cancers from the BC Cancer Agency. 141 had spread first to the brain.
Some 127 scored positive for αB-crystallin, and 842 negative – with those testing positive three times more likely to have spread first to the brain.
In a further analysis of all 4,000 cases, αB-crystallin was also linked with a significantly higher risk of death – with 36 per cent of women with αB-crystallin positive cancer, compared to 25 per cent with αB-crystallin negative, dying within ten years of diagnosis.
The international research effort also included researchers at the Institute for Cancer Research, London (U.K.), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The study was published in the journal NPJ Breast Cancer
and funded by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the US National Cancer Institute, Cancer Research UK and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.