When mutated, a gene that has been known to repair DNA instead causes breast cancer, said researchers from the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.
In a study published in the American Journal of Pathology, the researchers showed that the gene GT198, whether it undergoes mutation via environmental factors and/or genetics, has strong potential as a new treatment target and as a means to diagnose breast cancer early.
GT198 mutations have been observed in both the early onset of ovarian and breast cancers. Now, the researchers have found that progenitor or stem cells that make healthy breast tissues can also have the mutations, making the cells the ideal foundation for breast cancer.
"We believe that once this gene is mutated, it induces the tumor to grow," said Dr. Lan Ko, the study's corresponding author.
Earlier studies have reported spotting problems in various components making up breast tissue. With the current study showing that GT198 mutations directly affect stem cells, it provides an explanation for problems cropping up in different breast tissue components.
For their next steps, the researchers are looking into pursuing treatments and therapies that will target affected stem cells instead of homing in on cancerous breast tissue. They believe that killing the offending stem cells will produce better results in fighting cancer than just killing tumor cells.
In 2013, Ko and colleagues were also able to show that GT198 mutations are present in different ovarian cancer types, indicating that it could also be a cause for the condition.
In the United States, one in every eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime, resulting in about 246,660 new cases in 2016. For non-invasive breast cancer, about 61,000 new cases will be diagnosed, according to statistics from Breastcancer.org.
Incidence rates for breast cancer in the country have actually been dropping since 2000 after spiking for the previous 20 years. However, breast cancer remains to be one of the top two causes of the highest death toll associated with cancer for women in the U.S.
Breast cancer risk approximately doubles when a woman has a first-degree relative with the condition, but less than 15 percent of those that have been diagnosed have at least one family member with the cancer.
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