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New Hope for Women With Most Aggressive Breast Cancer

Protein may predict survival outcomes (Sept. 6)

Research could help predict survival outcomes for triple-negative breast cancer and basal-like breast cancer.

Breast cancer is a diverse disease consisting of distinct subgroups that respond differently to treatments. The triple-negative and basal-like subgroups of the disease, almost twice as likely to be diagnosed in black women as Caucasian women, exhibit aggressive behavior and are more likely to spread.

Unlike other forms of the disease, these subgroups don’t have high levels of receptors that can be targeted with treatments such as tamoxifen. Currently there are no specific therapies for either triple-negative or basal-like breast cancer.

New research at the university investigated levels of proteins known as calpains in breast tumors from 1,371 patients. Calpain proteins regulate several processes in tumor cells, such as growth and survival.

The patients were followed for more than 10 years to see whether calpain protein levels were linked to their survival. The results were then validated in another group of 387 breast cancer samples with much higher proportions of triple-negative or basal-like breast cancers.

The results, published in the Annals of Oncology, suggest that the amount of a particular calpain protein (calpain-2) can identify patients with basal-like or triple-negative breast cancer that have a better or worse prognosis and can therefore be used to “stratify” patients into different prognostic groups that indicate their predicted survival.

As well as having a prognostic use, the work on calpains could help investigators to understand why some basal-like and triple-negative breast cancers may be more resistant to drugs than others, helping to improve current treatment regimens, and may even identify new drugs that target calpain-2.

For more information, visit the University of Nottingham Web site.

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