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Area Around Breast Tumor May Predict Cancer's Spread
Date:12/19/2007

Mutations in tumor-suppressing gene could point to lymph node involvement, study suggests

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Supposedly "innocent" cells in the area surrounding cancerous tumors in the breast are definitely not always innocent and can predict whether or not the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, new research suggests.

The finding of alterations in the tumor-suppressing p53 gene in the stroma -- the region surrounding the tumor -- have future implications, the researchers said.

"The stroma looks innocent under the microscope, but there's an evil seed in innocent soil," said study senior author Dr. Charis Eng, chair of the Cleveland Clinic Genomic Medicine Institute in Ohio.

"This could be a new type of [cancer] biomarker, p53 in the stroma," she added.

In addition, the findings may one day eliminate the need to remove and dissect the lymph nodes which, as Eng points out, is a "nuisance" to patients.

Even further down the line, the stroma might provide a new target for drug therapies.

"It's a significant study," said Steve A. Maxwell, an associate professor of molecular and cellular medicine at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, in College Station. "Treatments targeting p53 in the stroma might lead to suppression of spread [of the cancer] or to prevention of recurrence. I don't see it as a cure, but it could contain future spread."

Further research is needed before any of these scenarios become reality, the researchers said.

The findings are published in the Dec. 20 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Communication" between a tumor and the stroma is increasingly a subject of research.

So is p53, a much-studied oncogene. P53 is involved in repairing DNA damage and other functions which prevent cells from turning malignant. This gene is mutated in 20 percent to 50 percent of breast ca
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