Israeli researchers say they have discovered one of the ways that breast cancer cells turn on their aggressive cancerous behavior. This means that it will be possible to detect breast cancer earlier and decide on the most effective treatment.
“We found a short version of a known enzyme which is actually reprogramming the cell to behave like a cancer cell,” Dr. Rotem Karni of the Hebrew University Institute of Medical Research Israel-Canada told The Media Line. “We identified the molecular mechanism which activates a pathway of transmission of information that is sent to the cell.”
The short version has fewer genes than the longer version of the enzyme. The research is expected to help with both early detection of breast cancer and follow-up treatment of malignant growths.
"This is fantastic news, because the earlier we can detect breast cancer in patients, the earlier we can potentially begin treating it," Fern Reiss, author of the new book, The Breast Cancer Checklist: The Only Guide for What to Do Before, During, and After Breast Cancer Surgery, Chemotherapy, and Radiation, told The Media Line.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that one out of eight women will get breast cancer at some point in her life. The chances increase based on age, genetic history, weight and reproductive history.
Karni says that the short version of the enzyme, which encourages cancerous cell growth, responds well to certain drugs that have already been approved by the FDA. He says the current research also has long-term implications.
“Once we know how the short form of the enzyme is generated, we can actually block or reverse it,” he said. “We can already do this in the lab and we are developing ways to do it in the body.”
In contrast, the long form of this same enzyme acts as a tumor suppressor which protects normal cells from becoming cancerous. Karni says they are also looking at ways to turn the short form, which is dangerous, into the long form of the enzyme.
He says the main advantage now is in diagnostics by helping doctors decide whether chemotherapy or surgery is needed. He has worked on the project for three years, and his team is continuing to collaborate with drug companies in both the US and Israel.
Breast cancer survival rates have improved dramatically in recent years. Currently, ten year survival rates are 85-90 percent. When caught early, 98 percent of women survive for at least five years. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer among women, excluding non-melanoma skin cancers.
In Israel, Jewish women have a one in 7.5 chance of developing the disease, while Arab women have a one in 14 chance. The most common form of breast cancer in Israel is invasive carcinoma. According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer rates in Israel are the fifth-highest in the Western world after Belgium, Denmark, France and Holland.
Karni says the research he is doing at Hebrew University is personal as well as scientific.
“I think that every person knows many people around them who are either directly affected by cancer or have relatives who are sick,” he said. “It’s very rewarding in terms of knowing that these findings are important and can contribute to treatment.”