By identifying which genes are overactive in certain breast tumors, researchers have discovered a genetic signature that could help doctors predict if and when a woman's cancer might spread to her lungs. The findings could also clarify how proteins encoded by these genes orchestrate the cancer's movement in the body, or metastasis, says Andy J. Minn, an oncologist at the University of Chicago. He and his colleagues at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York report the work in the July 28 Nature.
While bone is the most common destination for roving breast cancer cells, metastases to the lung are more deadly, Minn says. To decipher the genetic signature for this especially lethal form of the cancer, he and his colleagues identified 54 genes that were highly active in breast cancer cells prone to spread to the lungs.