DNA analysis may provide early warning of breast cancer
It could be possible to look formolecular alternations in breast tissue to identify whether a patientis at risk of developing breast cancer, a new study has found.Scientists at University College London (UCL) looked at changes in patientDNA, finding clear evidence that epigenetic alterations play a part inthe occurrence of the disease.
There are several key factors that are thought to increase patient risk of developing breast cancer, including a family history of the condition, late entrance into menopause, orstarting periods late. The UCL researchers theorized that these factorsmight alter the genetic programming of cells – something that's known as theepigenome.
The epigenome has control over the DNAsequence, and assigns each cell in the human body its ownidentity. Alternations in the epigenetic program can cause issue,potentially giving rise to cancerous cells.
In an effort to confirm or disprovethis theory, the UCL researchers collected a total of 668 tissuesamples, taking cells from women with and without breast cancer. Theythen used a specially developed statistical analysis tool to studythe samples. The findings revealed that the normal tissue directlyadjacent to cancerous cells contained tens of thousands of epigeneticalterations.
Furthermore, a large section of theobserved variations were enriched in adjacent cancerous tissue. Thismeans that doctors could potentially study epigenetic signatures toidentify cells that might be central to future cancer development. Itwas also found that cases where epigenetic variations were observedwere particularly severe, with low likelihoods of patient survival.
Not only does the work provide agreater insight into how breast cancer develops, but it could alsolead to new preventative measures, allowing doctors to "switch off"epigenetic defects, preventing cancers from ever occurring.
"These new data show how epigeneticalternations, if detected early enough, could be used to identifywomen at higher risk of developing breast cancer," said UCL'sProfessor Andrew Teschendorff. "Since epigenetic alterations arereversible, if offers the potential to design preventativestrategies."
The researchers published a paper ontheir work in the journal Nature Communications.