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Genetic Test May Someday Help Spot Breast Cancer
Date:12/9/2009

Positioning of genes could aid in detecting whether cells are cancerous, experts say,,

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 9 (HealthDay News) -- A new method of testing for breast tumors might one day all but eliminate false positives and false negatives from breast cancer diagnosis, new research suggests.

Within the cell nucleus, chromosomes and individual genes occupy specific locations relative to one another. That organization can change for many reasons, but one of them is cancer.

Researchers from the U.S. National Cancer Institute have honed in on several genes that have a different physical position inside the nucleus in invasive breast cancer cells than in normal breast tissue cells. A change in the position of one gene in particular, HES5, predicted invasive breast cancer nearly all of the time, they found.

The discovery suggests that looking at three-dimensional properties of the cell could one day be used as a new method of diagnosing breast cancer.

"Our hope is that our method would be useful as an early marker," said Tom Misteli, a cell biologist at the National Cancer Institute and the study's lead author. "We know that the position of the gene changes before the activity changes. That is a very, very early event in the tumor formation."

The study was published online Dec. 7 in the Journal of Cell Biology.

Typically, breast tumors are detected by a mammogram, which is basically an X-ray of the breast, or when a woman or her doctor feels a lump. To determine if the mass is cancerous or benign, a doctor would order a biopsy, which involves the removal of a small tissue sample that is then analyzed by a pathologist.

A pathologist looks at such factors as the shape and arrangement of cells to determine if a sample is cancerous. Some cancers are relatively easy to discern, said Dr. Victor Vogel, a breast cancer expert and the American Cancer Society's national vice president for
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