Predict individual breast cancer risk based on blood

Predict individual breast cancer risk based on blood

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Identify women with an increased risk of breast cancer at an early stage and treat them preventively

Every year tens of thousands of women in this country develop breast cancer. As with most cancers, the actual causes of breast cancer are still largely unknown. A changed composition of immune cells in the blood could possibly play an important role in this.

According to the German Cancer Society, more than 70,000 women in Germany are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. About 17,000 patients die from the consequences. Exactly how this type of tumor develops is still largely unknown. As the German Cancer Aid reports in a communication, researchers from Heidelberg are now assuming that a changed composition of immune cells in the blood plays an important role in this. If this suspicion is confirmed, they may be able to identify women at increased risk in the future by an analysis of the immune cells and treat them preventively. The scientists' vision: to delay or even prevent the onset of the disease.

Blood contains many different immune cells

As the German Cancer Aid explains, blood contains many different immune cells that effectively protect the body as a whole from diseases. A large group are the T cells, which include T helper cells, natural killer T cells and immune suppressing T cells. But what role does the immune system play in the development of breast cancer? “We suspect that the composition of the immune cells differs from woman to woman. Women with an overall weaker immune system may have a higher risk of developing the disease, ”explains Professor Dr. Rudolf Kaaks, head of the cancer epidemiology department at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg.

Findings from previous study

A previous, smaller study by Kaaks and his colleagues with almost 400 breast cancer patients and about 400 control persons without cancer provides initial insights: women who had an increased amount of immune-suppressing T cells in relation to the total number of T cells were at greater risk to develop the so-called hormone receptor-negative breast cancer. "We see great potential in these initial results," says Kaaks. "That is why we are now going one step further and examining the blood samples of selected women even more thoroughly."

New method makes work easier for researchers

The scientists are again using data from the large EPIC study, which has been running since 1992 and which includes over 500,000 participants. EPIC stands for "European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition", which means "Europe-wide study that examines the relationship between nutrition and cancer". At the beginning of the study, all participants also submitted a blood sample. To date, these are stored frozen and are available for analysis.

Over time, some of the women in the EPIC study developed breast cancer. Kaaks and his team selected a total of almost 1,000 patients, each with a healthy woman as a counterpart with very similar “key data” such as age. According to the information, all patients are either suffering from a hormone receptor-negative or another type of tumor, HER2-positive breast cancer.

The researchers are now analyzing the immune cells in the frozen blood samples. In addition to the various T cells, they also determine the amounts of so-called myeloid suppressor cells and monocytes. It then examines which changes increase the likelihood of hormone receptor-negative or HER2-positive breast cancer.

There is a simple reason why the scientists are only now able to work with the blood from the EPIC study: “Thanks to a new method, we can use DNA to determine the amounts of different immune cells. Until now, analysis was only possible with intact cells, ”explains Kaaks.

Treat women with low immune defenses preventively

If the analysis of the immune cells reliably predicts the risk of illness, it would be conceivable to treat women with low immune defense and increased risk of breast cancer preventively in the future - for example with a prophylactic vaccination.

"The German Cancer Aid has been committed to the prevention of cancer for almost 45 years," said Gerd Nettekoven, CEO of the German Cancer Aid. "In addition to the continuous educational work on known risk factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption or lack of exercise, research funding in this area is also a central concern of the German Cancer Aid. Because research is not only the basis for more effective cancer therapies, but also for new prevention strategies." (Ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Video: Medical Update: Hormone Receptor-Positive Metastatic Breast Cancer (September 2022).


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