In 1999, Eng's group looked at seemingly harmless stromal cells and found that they had cancer-related mutations in the p53 gene.
For this study, the group looked at whether genetic alterations in the stroma had any impact on clinical outcomes, and if they could predict the spread of the cancer.
To this end, they analyzed tissue samples from 218 breast cancer patients: 43 with hereditary breast cancer and 175 with sporadic breast cancer.
A technique called laser-capture microdissection was used to take individual breast cancer cells and surrounding stromal cells.
Mutations in p53, in the stroma but not in the cancer, increased the chances that the cancer would spread to the lymph nodes, indicating a worse outcome for these patients.
But even when the p53 alteration was not present, changes in five other markers resulted in the same outcome.
In other words, changes in the microenvironment surrounding a tumor can impact how the cancer spreads, the research suggests.
A second study in the same issue of the journal found that mutations in the same p53 gene were associated with shorter survival after surgery in patients with squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck.
This type of cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world; more than 45,000 new cases are expected to be diagnosed in the United States in 2007.
P53 mutations in general and a specific p53 mutation were associated with poorer survival, reported a team led by Dr. Wayne Koch, of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.
There's more on the p53 gene at the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Charis Eng, M.D., Ph.D., chair, Cleveland Clinic Genomic Medicine Institute, Ohio; Steve A. Maxwell, Ph.D., associate professor, molecular and ce
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