Breast cancer in young women is so aggressive it should be treated as 'a completely separate disease'
12:33 GMT, 4 May 2012
Kylie Minogue after recovering from breast cancer in 2006: Particular genes are significantly associated with breast cancer in pre-menopausal women
Breast cancer in young women is so aggressive it should be treated as a completely separate disease, according to new research.
The discovery that particular genes are significantly associated with breast cancer in pre-menopausal women could lead to customised therapy for sufferers under forty.
One gene called RANKL is highly expressed in sufferers and is known to play a vital role in its spread to the bones.
Dr Hatem Azim, an oncologist at the Jules Bordet Institute in Brussels, told a cancer conference in the city: 'Putting all the information in context, we hypothesise perhaps targeting RANKL could be particularly interesting in young breast cancer patients.'
His researchers are already planning a clinical trial in which pre-menopausal breast cancer patients will receive two injections of a drug called denosumab, which inhibits the gene, a week before surgery.
The aim is to evaluate the effect on the tumour and the study is expected to begin later this year in three Belgian centres.
The findings have potentially important implications because breast cancer in young women is often aggressive and diagnosed at an advanced stage, meaning the prognosis is often poor.
Dr Azim and colleagues performed their analysis on two independent datasets, including 1,188 and 2,334 patients, and found the same results in both cases.
They showed breast cancer in women aged forty or younger is enriched with aggressive basal-like tumours that start in the skin and these patients have a significantly higher risk of relapse.
To clarify why younger sufferers were at greater risk the researchers studied a variety of genes to see if they correlated with age.
They adjusted their findings to take into account the size of the tumor at diagnosis and whether the disease had spread to lymph nodes, in addition to other variables.
Dr Azim said: 'What we found was that even after adjustment for these parameters, there are several genes and gene signatures that are significantly associated with age in breast cancer patients.'
Professor Bryan Hennessy, of Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, who was not involved in the research, said: 'Young women with breast cancer tend to have a poorer prognosis.
'This study provides evidence breast cancer in young women is associated with unique underlying biologic processes, highlighting important information that may allow us to design tailored therapy approaches to improve outcomes in this population.'