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Selective Marker Found to Indicate Aggressive Form of Breast Cancer

Researchers have linked a structural protein called nestin to a particularly deadly form of breast cancer, identifying a new biomarker that could lead to earlier detection and better treatment.//

In the January 15 issue of Cancer Research, researchers from Dartmouth Medical School demonstrate that nestin could represent a selective biological marker for basal epithelial breast tumors, a highly aggressive cancer with similarities to mammary stem cells, the regenerative cells believed to be the site of breast cancer initiation.

'Patients with this type of breast cancer are at high risk for recurrence,' said James DiRenzo, Ph.D., assistant professor at Dartmouth Medical School. 'Ideally, a marker like nestin would enable clinicians to monitor these patients through frequent tests of a biomarker and, in doing so, detect the cancer before it has a chance to come back.'

Basal epithelial tumors lack important molecular targets such as the estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and Her2. This not only makes positive diagnosis difficult, say researchers, but also eliminates several important lines of therapy, such as tamoxifen or Herceptin, that work well for other breast cancer subtypes.

'Currently, there is no direct means of determining if a breast cancer is a basal epithelial tumor – doctors only know for certain once the other forms of breast cancer are ruled out,' DiRenzo said. 'This type of breast cancer is generally difficult to manage, but several important studies have shown that it is more likely than other breast cancer subtypes to respond to certain types of therapy, which highlights the need for a definitive diagnostic marker.'

The basal epithelial breast cancer subtype represents 17 to 37 percent of all breast cancers and is more common in premenopausal African American women than in other demographic groups. Among breast cancers, this subtype is known to have an early age of onset and a very short
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