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1.  Characterization of a Test for Invasive Breast Cancer Using X-ray Diffraction of Hair—Results of a Clinical Trial 
Objective:
To assess the performance of a test for breast cancer utilizing synchrotron x-ray diffraction analysis of scalp hair from women undergoing diagnostic radiology assessment.
Design and Setting:
A double-blinded clinical trial of women who attended diagnostic radiology clinics in Australia.
Patients:
1796 women referred for diagnostic radiology, with no previous history of cancer.
Main Outcome Measures:
Sensitivity, specificity and accuracy of the hair test analysis compared to the gold standard of imaging followed by biopsy where indicated.
Results:
The hair-based assay had an overall accuracy of >77% and a negative predictive value of 99%. For all women, the sensitivity of both mammography and X-ray diffraction alone was 64%, but when used together the sensitivity rose to 86%. The sensitivity of the hair test for women under the age of 70 was 74%.
Conclusion:
In this large population trial the association between the presence of breast cancer and an altered hair fibre X-ray diffraction pattern previously reported has been confirmed. It appears that mammography and X-ray diffraction of hair detect different populations of breast cancers, and are synergistic when used together.
PMCID: PMC3086309  PMID: 21556251
X-ray diffraction; hair; breast cancer; randomized clinical trial; synchrotron
2.  The effect of breast cancer on the Fourier transform infrared attenuated total reflection spectra of human hair 
ecancermedicalscience  2014;8:405.
Changes in the Synchrotron x-ray diffraction pattern of scalp hair were shown to occur in patients with breast cancer. A preliminary Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy study of scalp hair using attenuated total reflection (ATR) supported the concept that these changes are due to an increase in the lipid content of the hair fibre. This study was undertaken to determine whether the ATR-FT-IR spectrum obtained using a single hair fibre ATR cell could be used in the detection of breast cancer. In addition, variable angle ATR-FT-IR difference spectra were obtained to investigate the location and the molecular structure of this lipid material in the hair fibre, which appears to be an indicator of breast cancer. Patients with breast cancer showed an increase in the peak height ratio of the 1446–1456 cm−1 C–H bending absorption bands of the ATR-FT-IR spectra of a single hair fibre. Peak height ratios > 1.0 were indicative of breast cancer. The spectra of scalp hair of subjects with breast cancer also showed a slight shift in C–H bending absorption from 1446 to 1448 cm−1 and from 1456 to 1458 cm−1 that could result from the formation of secondary structures by the increased lipid material. Variable angle difference spectra indicated that this increased lipid material is located in the cuticle–cortex interface area and appears to be similar to the lipids normally found here. An alteration in hair biosynthesis in the follicle caused by breast cancer signalling molecules, or biomarkers, is most likely involved. ATR-FT-IR spectral analysis of a long hair fibre containing a distal portion formed when the breast cancer was present and a proximal portion formed after the breast cancer was removed showed that hair fibre synthesis had become normal after the removal of the cancer. This study demonstrates the potential of ATR-FT-IR analysis of a hair fibre in the early detection of breast cancer and in studying how hair acts as a biosensor for breast cancer.
doi:10.3332/ecancer.2014.405
PMCID: PMC3931532  PMID: 24605137
human hair; breast cancer; signalling molecules; biomarkers; single fibre ATR-FT-IR spectra; variable angle ATR-FT-IR spectra; early detection; lipids
3.  Association between Melanocytic Nevi and Risk of Breast Diseases: The French E3N Prospective Cohort 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(6):e1001660.
Using data from the French E3N prospective cohort, Marina Kvaskoff and colleagues examine the association between number of cutaneous nevi and the risk for breast cancer.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
While melanocytic nevi have been associated with genetic factors and childhood sun exposure, several observations also suggest a potential hormonal influence on nevi. To test the hypothesis that nevi are associated with breast tumor risk, we explored the relationships between number of nevi and benign and malignant breast disease risk.
Methods and Findings
We prospectively analyzed data from E3N, a cohort of French women aged 40–65 y at inclusion in 1990. Number of nevi was collected at inclusion. Hazard ratios (HRs) for breast cancer and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated using Cox proportional hazards regression models. Associations of number of nevi with personal history of benign breast disease (BBD) and family history of breast cancer were estimated using logistic regression. Over the period 15 June 1990–15 June 2008, 5,956 incident breast cancer cases (including 5,245 invasive tumors) were ascertained among 89,902 women. In models adjusted for age, education, and known breast cancer risk factors, women with “very many” nevi had a significantly higher breast cancer risk (HR = 1.13, 95% CI = 1.01–1.27 versus “none”; ptrend = 0.04), although significance was lost after adjustment for personal history of BBD or family history of breast cancer. The 10-y absolute risk of invasive breast cancer increased from 3,749 per 100,000 women without nevi to 4,124 (95% CI = 3,674–4,649) per 100,000 women with “very many” nevi. The association was restricted to premenopausal women (HR = 1.40, ptrend = 0.01), even after full adjustment (HR = 1.34, ptrend = 0.03; phomogeneity = 0.04), but did not differ according to breast cancer type or hormone receptor status. In addition, we observed significantly positive dose–response relationships between number of nevi and history of biopsy-confirmed BBD (n = 5,169; ptrend<0.0001) and family history of breast cancer in first-degree relatives (n = 7,472; ptrend = 0.0003). The main limitations of our study include self-report of number of nevi using a qualitative scale, and self-reported history of biopsied BBD.
Conclusions
Our findings suggest associations between number of nevi and the risk of premenopausal breast cancer, BBD, and family history of breast cancer. More research is warranted to elucidate these relationships and to understand their underlying mechanisms.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2012, nearly 1.7 million women worldwide discovered they had breast cancer, and about half a million women died from the disease. Breast cancer begins when cells in the breast acquire genetic changes that allow them to divide uncontrollably and to move around the body (metastasize). Uncontrolled cell division leads to the formation of a lump that can be detected by mammography (a breast X-ray) or by manual breast examination. Breast cancer is treated by surgical removal of the lump, or, if the cancer has started to spread, by removal of the whole breast (mastectomy). Surgery is usually followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells. Because the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone stimulate the growth of some tumors, drugs that block hormone receptors are also used to treat receptor-positive breast cancer. Nowadays, the prognosis (outlook) for women with breast cancer is good, and in developed countries, nearly 90% of affected women are still alive five years after diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Several hormone-related factors affect a woman's chances of developing breast cancer. For example, women who have no children or who have them late in life have a higher breast cancer risk than women who have several children when they are young because pregnancy alters sex hormone levels. Interestingly, the development of moles (nevi)—dark skin blemishes that are risk factors for the development of melanoma, a type of skin cancer—may also be affected by estrogen and progesterone. Thus, the number of nevi might be a marker of blood hormone levels and might predict breast cancer risk. In this prospective cohort study, the researchers test this hypothesis by investigating the association between how many moles a woman has and her breast cancer risk. A prospective cohort study enrolls a group (cohort) of people, determines their baseline characteristics, and follows them over time to see which characteristics are associated with the development of specific diseases.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In 1990, the E3N prospective cohort study enrolled nearly 100,000 French women (mainly school teachers) aged 40–65 years to investigate cancer risk factors. The women completed a baseline questionnaire about their lifestyle and medical history, and regular follow-up questionnaires that asked about cancer occurrence. In the initial questionnaire, the women indicated whether they had no, a few, many, or very many moles. Between 1990 and 2008, nearly 6,000 women in the cohort developed breast cancer. Using statistical methods to calculate hazard ratios (an “HR” compares how often a particular event happens in two groups with different characteristics; an HR greater than one indicates that a specific characteristic is associated with an increased risk of the event), the researchers report that women with “very many” nevi had a significantly higher breast cancer risk (a higher risk that was unlikely to have occurred by chance) than women with no nevi. Specifically, the age-adjusted HR for breast cancer among women with “very many” nevi compared to women with no nevi was 1.17. After adjustment for a personal history of benign (noncancerous) breast disease and a family history of breast cancer (two established risk factors for breast cancer), the association between nevi and breast cancer risk among the whole cohort became nonsignificant. Notably, however, the association among only premenopausal women remained significant after full adjustment (HR = 1.34), which corresponded to an increase in ten-year absolute risk of invasive breast cancer from 2,515 per 100,000 women with no nevi to 3,370 per 100,000 women with “very many” nevi.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that among premenopausal women there is a modest association between nevi number and breast cancer risk. This noncausal relationship may indicate that nevi and breast diseases are affected in similar ways by hormones or share common genetic factors, but the accuracy of these findings may be limited by aspects of the study design. For example, self-report of nevi numbers using a qualitative scale may have introduced some inaccuracies into the estimates of the association between nevi number and breast cancer risk. Most importantly, these findings are insufficient to support the use of nevi counts in breast cancer screening or diagnosis. Rather, together with the findings reported by Zhang et al. in an independent PLOS Medicine Research Article, they suggest that further studies into the biological mechanisms underlying the relationship between nevi and breast cancer and the association itself should be undertaken.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001660.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Fuhrman and Cardenas
An independent PLOS Medicine Research Article by Zhang et al. also investigates the relationship between nevi number and breast cancer risk
The US National Cancer Institute provides comprehensive information about cancer (in English and Spanish), including detailed information for patients and professionals about breast cancer; it also has a fact sheet on moles
Cancer Research UK, a not-for profit organization, provides information about cancer, including detailed information on breast cancer
The UK National Health Service Choices website has information and personal stories about breast cancer; the not-for profit organization Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about dealing with breast cancer
More information about the E3N prospective cohort study is available; detailed information is available in French
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001660
PMCID: PMC4051602  PMID: 24915306
4.  DEAR1 Is a Dominant Regulator of Acinar Morphogenesis and an Independent Predictor of Local Recurrence-Free Survival in Early-Onset Breast Cancer 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(5):e1000068.
Ann Killary and colleagues describe a new gene that is genetically altered in breast tumors, and that may provide a new breast cancer prognostic marker.
Background
Breast cancer in young women tends to have a natural history of aggressive disease for which rates of recurrence are higher than in breast cancers detected later in life. Little is known about the genetic pathways that underlie early-onset breast cancer. Here we report the discovery of DEAR1 (ductal epithelium–associated RING Chromosome 1), a novel gene encoding a member of the TRIM (tripartite motif) subfamily of RING finger proteins, and provide evidence for its role as a dominant regulator of acinar morphogenesis in the mammary gland and as an independent predictor of local recurrence-free survival in early-onset breast cancer.
Methods and Findings
Suppression subtractive hybridization identified DEAR1 as a novel gene mapping to a region of high-frequency loss of heterozygosity (LOH) in a number of histologically diverse human cancers within Chromosome 1p35.1. In the breast epithelium, DEAR1 expression is limited to the ductal and glandular epithelium and is down-regulated in transition to ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), an early histologic stage in breast tumorigenesis. DEAR1 missense mutations and homozygous deletion (HD) were discovered in breast cancer cell lines and tumor samples. Introduction of the DEAR1 wild type and not the missense mutant alleles to complement a mutation in a breast cancer cell line, derived from a 36-year-old female with invasive breast cancer, initiated acinar morphogenesis in three-dimensional (3D) basement membrane culture and restored tissue architecture reminiscent of normal acinar structures in the mammary gland in vivo. Stable knockdown of DEAR1 in immortalized human mammary epithelial cells (HMECs) recapitulated the growth in 3D culture of breast cancer cell lines containing mutated DEAR1, in that shDEAR1 clones demonstrated disruption of tissue architecture, loss of apical basal polarity, diffuse apoptosis, and failure of lumen formation. Furthermore, immunohistochemical staining of a tissue microarray from a cohort of 123 young female breast cancer patients with a 20-year follow-up indicated that in early-onset breast cancer, DEAR1 expression serves as an independent predictor of local recurrence-free survival and correlates significantly with strong family history of breast cancer and the triple-negative phenotype (ER−, PR−, HER-2−) of breast cancers with poor prognosis.
Conclusions
Our data provide compelling evidence for the genetic alteration and loss of expression of DEAR1 in breast cancer, for the functional role of DEAR1 in the dominant regulation of acinar morphogenesis in 3D culture, and for the potential utility of an immunohistochemical assay for DEAR1 expression as an independent prognostic marker for stratification of early-onset disease.
Editors' Summary
Background
Each year, more than one million women discover that they have breast cancer. This type of cancer begins when cells in the breast that line the milk-producing glands or the tubes that take the milk to the nipples (glandular and ductal epithelial cells, respectively) acquire genetic changes that allow them to grow uncontrollably and to move around the body (metastasize). The uncontrolled division leads to the formation of a lump that can be detected by mammography (a breast X-ray) or by manual breast examination. Breast cancer is treated by surgical removal of the lump or, if the cancer has started to spread, by removal of the whole breast (mastectomy). Surgery is usually followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy. These “adjuvant” therapies are designed to kill any remaining cancer cells but can make patients very ill. Generally speaking, the outlook for women with breast cancer is good. In the US, for example, nearly 90% of affected women are still alive five years after their diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although breast cancer is usually diagnosed in women in their 50s or 60s, some women develop breast cancer much earlier. In these women, the disease is often very aggressive. Compared to older women, young women with breast cancer have a lower overall survival rate and their cancer is more likely to recur locally or to metastasize. It would be useful to be able to recognize those younger women at the greatest risk of cancer recurrence so that they could be offered intensive surveillance and adjuvant therapy; those women at a lower risk could have gentler treatments. To achieve this type of “stratification,” the genetic changes that underlie breast cancer in young women need to be identified. In this study, the researchers discover a gene that is genetically altered (by mutations or deletion) in early-onset breast cancer and then investigate whether its expression can predict outcomes in women with this disease.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used “suppression subtractive hybridization” to identify a new gene in a region of human Chromosome 1 where loss of heterozygosity (LOH; a genetic alteration associated with cancer development) frequently occurs. They called the gene DEAR1 (ductal epithelium-associated RING Chromosome 1) to indicate that it is expressed in ductal and glandular epithelial cells and encodes a “RING finger” protein (specifically, a subtype called a TRIM protein; RING finger proteins such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 have been implicated in early cancer development and in a large fraction of inherited breast cancers). DEAR1 expression was reduced or lost in several ductal carcinomas in situ (a local abnormality that can develop into breast cancer) and advanced breast cancers, the researchers report. Furthermore, many breast tumors carried DEAR1 missense mutations (genetic changes that interfere with the normal function of the DEAR1 protein) or had lost both copies of DEAR1 (the human genome contains two copies of most genes). To determine the function of DEAR1, the researchers replaced a normal copy of DEAR1 into a breast cancer cell that had a mutation in DEAR1. They then examined the growth of these genetically manipulated cells in special three-dimensional cultures. The breast cancer cells without DEAR1 grew rapidly without an organized structure while the breast cancer cells containing the introduced copy of DEAR1 formed structures that resembled normal breast acini (sac-like structures that secrete milk). In normal human mammary epithelial cells, the researchers silenced DEAR1 expression and also showed that without DEAR1, the normal mammary cells lost their ability to form proper acini. Finally, the researchers report that DEAR1 expression (detected “immunohistochemically”) was frequently lost in women who had had early-onset breast cancer and that the loss of DEAR1 expression correlated with reduced local recurrence-free survival, a strong family history of breast cancer and with a breast cancer subtype that has a poor outcome.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that genetic alteration and loss of expression of DEAR1 are common in breast cancer. Although laboratory experiments may not necessarily reflect what happens in people, the results from the three-dimensional culture of breast epithelial cells suggest that DEAR1 may regulate the normal acinar structure of the breast. Consequently, loss of DEAR1 expression could be an early event in breast cancer development. Most importantly, the correlation between DEAR1 expression and both local recurrence in early-onset breast cancer and a breast cancer subtype with a poor outcome suggests that it might be possible to use DEAR1 expression to identify women with early-onset breast cancer who have an increased risk of local recurrence so that they get the most appropriate treatment for their cancer.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000068.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Senthil Muthuswamy
The US National Cancer Institute provides detailed information for patients and health professionals on all aspects of breast cancer, including information on genetic alterations in breast cancer (in English and Spanish)
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia provides information for patients about breast cancer; MedlinePlus also provides links to many other breast cancer resources (in English and Spanish)
The UK charities Cancerbackup (now merged with MacMillan Cancer Support) and Cancer Research UK also provide detailed information about breast cancer
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000068
PMCID: PMC2673042  PMID: 19536326
5.  Polymorphic repeat in AIB1 does not alter breast cancer risk 
Breast Cancer Research : BCR  2000;2(5):378-385.
We assessed the association between a glutamine repeat polymorphism in AIB1 and breast cancer risk in a case-control study (464 cases, 624 controls) nested within the Nurses' Health Study cohort. We observed no association between AIB1 genotype and breast cancer incidence, or specific tumor characteristics. These findings suggest that AIB1 repeat genotype does not influence postmenopausal breast cancer risk among Caucasian women in the general population.
Introduction:
A causal association between endogenous and exogenous estrogens and breast cancer has been established. Steroid hormones regulate the expression of proteins that are involved in breast cell proliferation and development after binding to their respective steroid hormone receptors. Coactivator and corepressor proteins have recently been identified that interact with steroid hormone receptors and modulate transcriptional activation [1]. AIB1 (amplified in breast 1) is a member of the steroid receptor coactivator (SRC) family that interacts with estrogen receptor (ER)α in a ligand-dependent manner, and increases estrogen-dependent transcription [2]. Amplification and overexpression of AIB1 has been observed in breast and ovarian cancer cell lines and in breast tumors [2,3]. A polymorphic stretch of glutamine amino acids, with unknown biologic function, has recently been described in the carboxyl-terminal region of AIB1 [4]. Among women with germline BRCA1 mutations, significant positive associations were observed between AIB1 alleles with 26 or fewer glutamine repeats and breast cancer risk [5]
Aim:
To establish whether AIB1 repeat alleles are associated with breast cancer risk and specific tumor characteristics among Caucasian women.
Patients and methods:
We evaluated associations prospectively between AIB1 alleles and breast cancer risk in the Nurses' Health Study using a nested case-control design. The Nurses' Health Study was initiated in 1976, when 121 700 US-registered nurses between the ages of 30 and 55 years returned an initial questionnaire reporting medical histories and baseline health-related exposures. Between 1989 and 1990 blood samples were collected from 32 826 women. Eligible cases in this study consisted of women with pathologically confirmed incident breast cancer from the subcohort who gave a blood specimen. Cases with a diagnosis anytime after blood collection up to June 1, 1994, with no previously diagnosed cancer except for nonmelanoma skin cancer were included. Controls were randomly selected participants who gave a blood sample and were free of diagnosed cancer (except nonmelanoma skin cancer) up to and including the interval in which the cases were diagnosed, and were matched to cases on year of birth, menopausal status, postmenopausal hormone use, and time of day, month and fasting status at blood sampling. The nested case-control study consisted of 464 incident breast cancer cases and 624 matched controls. The protocol was approved by the Committee on Human Subjects, Brigham and Womens' Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts USA. Information regarding breast cancer risk factors was obtained from the 1976 baseline questionnaire, subsequent biennial questionnaires, and a questionnaire that was completed at the time of blood sampling. Histopathologic characteristics, such as stage, tumor size and ER and progesterone receptor (PR) status, were ascertained from medical records when available and used in case subgroup analyses.
AIB1 repeat alleles were determined by automated fluorescence-based fragment detection from polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-amplified DNA extracted from peripheral blood lymphocytes. Fluorescent 5' -labeled primers were utilized for PCR amplification, and glutamine repeat number discrimination was performed using the ABI Prism 377 DNA Sequencer (Perkin-Elmer, Foster City, CA, USA). Genotyping was performed by laboratory personnel who were blinded to case-control status, and blinded quality control samples were inserted to validate genotyping identification procedures (n = 110); concordance for the blinded samples was 100%. Methods regarding plasma hormone assays have previously been reported [6]. Conditional and unconditional logistic regression models, including terms for the matching variables and other potential confounders, were used to assess the association of AIB1 alleles and breast cancer characterized by histologic subtype, stage of disease, and ER and PR status. We also evaluated whether breast cancer risk associated with AIB1 genotype differed within strata of established breast cancer risk factors, and whether repeat length in AIB1 indirectly influenced plasma hormone levels.
Results:
The case-control comparisons of established breast cancer risk factors among these women have previously been reported [7], and are generally consistent with expectation. The mean age of the women was 58.3 (standard deviation [SD] 7.1) years, ranging from 43 to 69 years at blood sampling. There were 188 premenopausal and 810 postmenopausal women, with mean ages of 48.1 (SD 2.8) years and 61.4 (SD 5.0) years, respectively, at blood sampling. Women in this study were primarily white; Asians, African-Americans and Hispanics comprised less than 1% of cases or controls.
The distribution of AIB1 glutamine repeat alleles and AIB1 genotypes for cases and controls are presented in Table 1. Women with AIB1 alleles of 26 glutamine repeats or fewer were not at increased risk for breast cancer (odds ratio [OR] 1.01, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.75-1.36; Table 2). Results were also similar by menopausal status and in analyses additionally adjusting for established breast cancer risk factors. Among premenopausal women, the OR for women with at least one allele with 26 glutamine repeats or fewer was 0.82 (95% Cl 0.37-1.81), and among postmenopausal women the OR was 1.09 (95% Cl 0.78-1.52; Table 2). We did not observe evidence of a positive association between shorter repeat length and advanced breast cancer, defined as women with breast cancer having one or more involved nodes (OR 1.07, 95% Cl 0.64-1.78), or with cancers with a hormone-dependent phenotype (ER-positive: OR 1.16, 95% Cl 0.81-1.65; Table 3). No associations were observed among women who had one or more alleles with 26 glutamine repeats or fewer, with or without a family history of breast cancer (family history: OR 1.09; 95% Cl 0.46-2.58; no family history: OR 0.94; 95% Cl 0.68-1.31; test for interaction P = 0.65). We also did not observe associations with breast cancer risk to be modified by other established breast cancer risk factors. Among postmenopausal controls not using postmenopausal hormones, geometric least-squared mean plasma levels of estrone sulfate and estrone were similar among carriers and noncarriers of AIB1 alleles with 26 glutamine repeats or fewer (both differences: ≤ +3.5%; P >0.50). Mean levels of estradiol were slightly, but nonsignificantly elevated among carriers of alleles with 26 glutamine repeats or fewer (+11.6%; P = 0.08).
Discussion:
In this population-based nested case-control study, women with at most 26 repeating glutamine codons (CAG/CAA) within the carboxyl terminus of AIB1 were not at increased risk for breast cancer. We did not observe shorter repeat alleles to be positively associated with breast cancer grouped by histologic subtype, stage of disease, or by ER and PR status. These data suggest that AIB1 repeat length is not a strong independent risk factor for postmenopausal breast cancer, and does not modify the clinical presentation of the tumor among Caucasian women in the general population.
PMCID: PMC13920  PMID: 11056690
AIB1 polymorphism; breast cancer; genetic susceptibility; molecular epidemiology
6.  Exquisite Sensitivity of TP53 Mutant and Basal Breast Cancers to a Dose-Dense Epirubicin−Cyclophosphamide Regimen 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(3):e90.
Background
In breast cancers, only a minority of patients fully benefit from the different chemotherapy regimens currently in use. Identification of markers that could predict the response to a particular regimen would thus be critically important for patient care. In cell lines or animal models, tumor protein p53 (TP53) plays a critical role in modulating the response to genotoxic drugs. TP53 is activated in response to DNA damage and triggers either apoptosis or cell-cycle arrest, which have opposite effects on cell fate. Yet, studies linking TP53 status and chemotherapy response have so far failed to unambiguously establish this paradigm in patients. Breast cancers with a TP53 mutation were repeatedly shown to have a poor outcome, but whether this reflects poor response to treatment or greater intrinsic aggressiveness of the tumor is unknown.
Methods and Findings
In this study we analyzed 80 noninflammatory breast cancers treated by frontline (neoadjuvant) chemotherapy. Tumor diagnoses were performed on pretreatment biopsies, and the patients then received six cycles of a dose-dense regimen of 75 mg/m2 epirubicin and 1,200 mg/m2 cyclophosphamide, given every 14 days. After completion of chemotherapy, all patients underwent mastectomies, thus allowing for a reliable assessment of chemotherapy response. The pretreatment biopsy samples were used to determine the TP53 status through a highly efficient yeast functional assay and to perform RNA profiling. All 15 complete responses occurred among the 28 TP53-mutant tumors. Furthermore, among the TP53-mutant tumors, nine out of ten of the highly aggressive basal subtypes (defined by basal cytokeratin [KRT] immunohistochemical staining) experienced complete pathological responses, and only TP53 status and basal subtype were independent predictors of a complete response. Expression analysis identified many mutant TP53-associated genes, including CDC20, TTK, CDKN2A, and the stem cell gene PROM1, but failed to identify a transcriptional profile associated with complete responses among TP53 mutant tumors. In patients with unresponsive tumors, mutant TP53 status predicted significantly shorter overall survival. The 15 patients with responsive TP53-mutant tumors, however, had a favorable outcome, suggesting that this chemotherapy regimen can overcome the poor prognosis generally associated with mutant TP53 status.
Conclusions
This study demonstrates that, in noninflammatory breast cancers, TP53 status is a key predictive factor for response to this dose-dense epirubicin–cyclophosphamide regimen and further suggests that the basal subtype is exquisitely sensitive to this association. Given the well-established predictive value of complete responses for long-term survival and the poor prognosis of basal and TP53-mutant tumors treated with other regimens, this chemotherapy could be particularly suited for breast cancer patients with a mutant TP53, particularly those with basal features.
Hugues de The and colleagues report thatTP53 status is a predictive factor for responsiveness in breast cancers to a dose-dense epirubicin-cyclophosphamide chemotherapy regimen, and suggests that this regimen might be well suited for patientsTP53 mutant tumors.
Editors' Summary
Background.
One woman in eight will develop breast cancer during her life. As with other cancers, breast cancer arises when cells accumulate genetic changes (mutations) that allow them to grow uncontrollably and to move around the body. These altered cells are called malignant cells. The normal human breast contains several types of cell, any of which can become malignant. In addition, there is more than one route to malignancy—different sets of genes can be mutated. As a result, breast cancer is a heterogeneous disease that cannot be cured with a single type of treatment. Ideally, oncologists would like to know before they start treating a patient which therapeutic approach is going to be successful for that individual. Recently, researchers have begun to identify molecular changes that might eventually allow oncologists to make such rational treatment decisions. For example, laboratory studies in cell lines or animals indicate that the status of a gene called TP53 determines the chemotherapy agents (drugs that preferentially kill rapidly dividing cancer cells) to which cells respond. p53, the protein encoded by TP53, is a tumor suppressor. That is, in normal cells it prevents unregulated growth by controlling the expression of proteins involved in cell division and cell death. Consequently, p53 is often inactivated during cancer development.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although laboratory studies have linked TP53 status to chemotherapy responses, little is known about this relationship in human breast cancers. The clinical studies that have investigated whether TP53 status affects chemotherapy responses have generally found that patients whose tumors contain mutant TP53 have a poorer response to therapy and/or a shorter survival time than those whose tumors contain normal TP53. In this study, the researchers have asked whether TP53 status affects tumor responses to a dose-intense chemotherapy regimen (frequent, high doses of drugs) given to women with advanced noninflammatory breast cancer before surgery. This type of treatment is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy and is used to shrink tumors before surgery.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers collected breast tumor samples from 80 women before starting six fortnightly cycles of chemotherapy with epirubicin and cyclophosphamide. After this, each woman had her affected breast removed and examined to see whether the chemotherapy had killed the tumor cells. The researchers determined which original tumor samples contained mutated TP53 and used a technique called microarray expression profiling to document gene expression patterns in them. Overall, 28 tumors contained mutated TP53. Strikingly, all 15 tumors that responded completely to neoadjuvant chemotherapy (no tumor cells detectable in the breast tissue after chemotherapy) contained mutated TP53. Nine of these responsive tumors were basal-cell–like breast tumors, a particularly aggressive type of breast cancer; only one basal-cell–like, TP53-mutated tumor did not respond to chemotherapy. Patients whose tumors were unresponsive to the neoadjuvant chemotherapy but contained mutated TP53 tended to die sooner than those whose tumors contained normal TP53 or those with chemotherapy-responsive TP53-mutated tumors. Finally, expression profiling identified changes in the expression of many p53-regulated genes, but did not identify an expression profile in the TP53-mutated tumors unique to those that responded to chemotherapy.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that noninflammatory breast tumors containing mutant TP53—in particular, basal-cell–like tumors—are very sensitive to dose-dense epirubicin and cyclophosphamide chemotherapy. Intensive regimens of this type have rarely been used in previous studies, which might explain the apparent contradiction between these results and the generally poor response to chemotherapy of TP53-mutated breast tumors. More tumors now need to be examined to confirm the association between complete response, TP53 status and basal-cell–like tumors. In addition, although complete tumor responses generally predict good overall survival, longer survival studies than those reported here are needed to show that the tumor response to this particular neoadjuvant chemotherapy regimen translates into improved overall survival. If the present results can be confirmed and extended, dose-dense neoadjuvant chemotherapy with epirubicin and cyclophosphamide could considerably improve the outlook for patients with aggressive TP53-mutant, basal-cell–like breast tumors.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040090.
The US National Cancer Institute provides patient and physician information on breast cancer and general information on understanding cancer
Cancer Research UK offers patient information on cancer and breast cancer
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia has pages on breast cancer
Emory University's CancerQuest discusses the biology of cancer, including the role of tumor suppressor proteins
Wikipedia has pages on p53 (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040090
PMCID: PMC1831731  PMID: 17388661
7.  Association between Cutaneous Nevi and Breast Cancer in the Nurses' Health Study: A Prospective Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(6):e1001659.
Using data from the Nurses' Health Study, Jiali Han and colleagues examine the association between number of cutaneous nevi and the risk for breast cancer.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Cutaneous nevi are suggested to be hormone-related. We hypothesized that the number of cutaneous nevi might be a phenotypic marker of plasma hormone levels and predict subsequent breast cancer risk.
Methods and Findings
We followed 74,523 female nurses for 24 y (1986–2010) in the Nurses' Health Study and estimate the relative risk of breast cancer according to the number of cutaneous nevi. We adjusted for the known breast cancer risk factors in the models. During follow-up, a total of 5,483 invasive breast cancer cases were diagnosed. Compared to women with no nevi, women with more cutaneous nevi had higher risks of breast cancer (multivariable-adjusted hazard ratio, 1.04, 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.98–1.10 for 1–5 nevi; 1.15, 95% CI, 1.00–1.31 for 6–14 nevi, and 1.35, 95% CI, 1.04–1.74 for 15 or more nevi; p for continuous trend = 0.003). Over 24 y of follow-up, the absolute risk of developing breast cancer increased from 8.48% for women without cutaneous nevi to 8.82% (95% CI, 8.31%–9.33%) for women with 1–5 nevi, 9.75% (95% CI, 8.48%–11.11%) for women with 6–14 nevi, and 11.4% (95% CI, 8.82%–14.76%) for women with 15 or more nevi. The number of cutaneous nevi was associated with increased risk of breast cancer only among estrogen receptor (ER)–positive tumors (multivariable-adjusted hazard ratio per five nevi, 1.09, 95% CI, 1.02–1.16 for ER+/progesterone receptor [PR]–positive tumors; 1.08, 95% CI, 0.94–1.24 for ER+/PR− tumors; and 0.99, 95% CI, 0.86–1.15 for ER−/PR− tumors). Additionally, we tested plasma hormone levels according to the number of cutaneous nevi among a subgroup of postmenopausal women without postmenopausal hormone use (n = 611). Postmenopausal women with six or more nevi had a 45.5% higher level of free estradiol and a 47.4% higher level of free testosterone compared to those with no nevi (p for trend = 0.001 for both). Among a subgroup of 362 breast cancer cases and 611 matched controls with plasma hormone measurements, the multivariable-adjusted odds ratio for every five nevi attenuated from 1.25 (95% CI, 0.89–1.74) to 1.16 (95% CI, 0.83–1.64) after adjusting for plasma hormone levels. Key limitations in this study are that cutaneous nevi were self-counted in our cohort and that the study was conducted in white individuals, and thus the findings do not necessarily apply to other populations.
Conclusions
Our results suggest that the number of cutaneous nevi may reflect plasma hormone levels and predict breast cancer risk independently of previously known factors.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
One woman in eight will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. Breast cancer begins when cells in the breast acquire genetic changes that allow them to divide uncontrollably (which leads to the formation of a lump in the breast) and to move around the body (metastasize). The treatment of breast cancer, which is diagnosed using mammography (a breast X-ray) or manual breast examination and biopsy, usually involves surgery to remove the lump, or the whole breast (mastectomy) if the cancer has started to metastasize. After surgery, women often receive chemotherapy or radiotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells and may also be given drugs that block the action of estrogen and progesterone, female sex hormones that stimulate the growth of some breast cancer cells. Globally, half a million women die from breast cancer each year. However, in developed countries, nearly 90% of women affected by breast cancer are still alive five years after diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Several sex hormone–related factors affect breast cancer risk, including at what age a woman has her first child (pregnancy alters sex hormone levels) and her age at menopause, when estrogen levels normally drop. Moreover, postmenopausal women with high circulating levels of estrogen and testosterone (a male sex hormone) have an increased breast cancer risk. Interestingly, moles (nevi)—dark skin blemishes that are a risk factor for the development of melanoma, a type of skin cancer—often darken or enlarge during pregnancy. Might the number of nevi be a marker of hormone levels, and could nevi counts therefore be used to predict an individual's risk of breast cancer? In this prospective cohort study, the researchers look for an association between number of nevi and breast cancer risk among participants in the US Nurses' Health Study (NHS). A prospective cohort study enrolls a group of people, determines their baseline characteristics, and follows them over time to see which characteristics are associated with the development of certain diseases. The NHS, which enrolled 121,700 female nurses aged 30–55 years in 1976, is studying risk factors for cancer and other chronic diseases in women.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In 1986, nearly 75,000 NHS participants (all of whom were white) reported how many nevi they had on their left arm. Over the next 24 years, 5,483 invasive breast cancers were diagnosed in these women. Compared to women with no nevi, women with increasing numbers of nevi had a higher risk of breast cancer after adjustment for known breast cancer risk factors. Specifically, among women with 1–5 nevi, the hazard ratio (HR) for breast cancer was 1.04, whereas among women with 15 or more nevi the HR was 1.35. An HR compares how often a particular event occurs in two groups with different characteristics; an HR greater than one indicates that a specific characteristic is associated with an increased risk of the event. Over 24 years of follow-up, the absolute risk of developing breast cancer was 8.48% in women with no nevi but 11.4% for women with 15 or more nevi. Notably, postmenopausal women with six or more nevi had higher blood levels of estrogen and testosterone than women with no nevi. Finally, in a subgroup analysis, the association between number of nevi and breast cancer risk disappeared after adjustment for hormone levels.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings support the hypothesis that the number of nevi reflects sex hormone levels in women and may predict breast cancer risk. Notably, they show that the association between breast cancer risk and nevus number was independent of known risk factors for breast cancer, and that the risk of breast cancer increased with the number of nevi in a dose-dependent manner. These findings also suggest that a hormonal mechanism underlies the association between nevus number and breast cancer risk. Because this study involved only white participants, these findings may not apply to non-white women. Moreover, the use of self-reported data on nevus numbers may affect the accuracy of these findings. Finally, because this study is observational, these findings are insufficient to support any changes in clinical recommendations for breast cancer screening or diagnosis. Nevertheless, these data and those in an independent PLOS Medicine Research Article by Kvaskoff et al. support the need for further investigation of the association between nevi and breast cancer risk and of the mechanisms underlying this relationship.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001659.
An independent PLOS Medicine Research Article by Kvaskoff et al. also investigates the relationship between nevi and breast cancer risk
The US National Cancer Institute provides comprehensive information about cancer (in English and Spanish), including detailed information for patients and professionals about breast cancer; it also has a fact sheet on moles
Cancer Research UK, a not-for profit organization, provides information about cancer, including detailed information on breast cancer
The UK National Health Service Choices website has information and personal stories about breast cancer; the not-for profit organization Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about dealing with breast cancer
More information about the Nurses' Health Study is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001659
PMCID: PMC4051600  PMID: 24915186
8.  Risk Prediction for Breast, Endometrial, and Ovarian Cancer in White Women Aged 50 y or Older: Derivation and Validation from Population-Based Cohort Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(7):e1001492.
Ruth Pfeiffer and colleagues describe models to calculate absolute risks for breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers for white, non-Hispanic women over 50 years old using easily obtainable risk factors.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers share some hormonal and epidemiologic risk factors. While several models predict absolute risk of breast cancer, there are few models for ovarian cancer in the general population, and none for endometrial cancer.
Methods and Findings
Using data on white, non-Hispanic women aged 50+ y from two large population-based cohorts (the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial [PLCO] and the National Institutes of Health–AARP Diet and Health Study [NIH-AARP]), we estimated relative and attributable risks and combined them with age-specific US-population incidence and competing mortality rates. All models included parity. The breast cancer model additionally included estrogen and progestin menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) use, other MHT use, age at first live birth, menopausal status, age at menopause, family history of breast or ovarian cancer, benign breast disease/biopsies, alcohol consumption, and body mass index (BMI); the endometrial model included menopausal status, age at menopause, BMI, smoking, oral contraceptive use, MHT use, and an interaction term between BMI and MHT use; the ovarian model included oral contraceptive use, MHT use, and family history or breast or ovarian cancer. In independent validation data (Nurses' Health Study cohort) the breast and ovarian cancer models were well calibrated; expected to observed cancer ratios were 1.00 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.96–1.04) for breast cancer and 1.08 (95% CI: 0.97–1.19) for ovarian cancer. The number of endometrial cancers was significantly overestimated, expected/observed = 1.20 (95% CI: 1.11–1.29). The areas under the receiver operating characteristic curves (AUCs; discriminatory power) were 0.58 (95% CI: 0.57–0.59), 0.59 (95% CI: 0.56–0.63), and 0.68 (95% CI: 0.66–0.70) for the breast, ovarian, and endometrial models, respectively.
Conclusions
These models predict absolute risks for breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers from easily obtainable risk factors and may assist in clinical decision-making. Limitations are the modest discriminatory ability of the breast and ovarian models and that these models may not generalize to women of other races.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2008, just three types of cancer accounted for 10% of global cancer-related deaths. That year, about 460,000 women died from breast cancer (the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women and the fifth most common cause of cancer-related death). Another 140,000 women died from ovarian cancer, and 74,000 died from endometrial (womb) cancer (the 14th and 20th most common causes of cancer-related death, respectively). Although these three cancers originate in different tissues, they nevertheless share many risk factors. For example, current age, age at menarche (first period), and parity (the number of children a woman has had) are all strongly associated with breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer risk. Because these cancers share many hormonal and epidemiological risk factors, a woman with a high breast cancer risk is also likely to have an above-average risk of developing ovarian or endometrial cancer.
Why Was This Study Done?
Several statistical models (for example, the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool) have been developed that estimate a woman's absolute risk (probability) of developing breast cancer over the next few years or over her lifetime. Absolute risk prediction models are useful in the design of cancer prevention trials and can also help women make informed decisions about cancer prevention and treatment options. For example, a woman at high risk of breast cancer might decide to take tamoxifen for breast cancer prevention, but ideally she needs to know her absolute endometrial cancer risk before doing so because tamoxifen increases the risk of this cancer. Similarly, knowledge of her ovarian cancer risk might influence a woman's decision regarding prophylactic removal of her ovaries to reduce her breast cancer risk. There are few absolute risk prediction models for ovarian cancer, and none for endometrial cancer, so here the researchers develop models to predict the risk of these cancers and of breast cancer.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Absolute risk prediction models are constructed by combining estimates for risk factors from cohorts with population-based incidence rates from cancer registries. Models are validated in an independent cohort by testing their ability to identify people with the disease in an independent cohort and their ability to predict the observed numbers of incident cases. The researchers used data on white, non-Hispanic women aged 50 years or older that were collected during two large prospective US cohort studies of cancer screening and of diet and health, and US cancer incidence and mortality rates provided by the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program to build their models. The models all included parity as a risk factor, as well as other factors. The model for endometrial cancer, for example, also included menopausal status, age at menopause, body mass index (an indicator of the amount of body fat), oral contraceptive use, menopausal hormone therapy use, and an interaction term between menopausal hormone therapy use and body mass index. Individual women's risk for endometrial cancer calculated using this model ranged from 1.22% to 17.8% over the next 20 years depending on their exposure to various risk factors. Validation of the models using data from the US Nurses' Health Study indicated that the endometrial cancer model overestimated the risk of endometrial cancer but that the breast and ovarian cancer models were well calibrated—the predicted and observed risks for these cancers in the validation cohort agreed closely. Finally, the discriminatory power of the models (a measure of how well a model separates people who have a disease from people who do not have the disease) was modest for the breast and ovarian cancer models but somewhat better for the endometrial cancer model.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer can all be predicted using information on known risk factors for these cancers that is easily obtainable. Because these models were constructed and validated using data from white, non-Hispanic women aged 50 years or older, they may not accurately predict absolute risk for these cancers for women of other races or ethnicities. Moreover, the modest discriminatory power of the breast and ovarian cancer models means they cannot be used to decide which women should be routinely screened for these cancers. Importantly, however, these well-calibrated models should provide realistic information about an individual's risk of developing breast, ovarian, or endometrial cancer that can be used in clinical decision-making and that may assist in the identification of potential participants for research studies.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001492.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Lars Holmberg and Andrew Vickers
The US National Cancer Institute provides comprehensive information about cancer (in English and Spanish), including detailed information about breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer;
Information on the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool, the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, and on the prospective cohort study of screening and the diet and health study that provided the data used to build the models is also available on the NCI site
Cancer Research UK, a not-for-profit organization, provides information about cancer, including detailed information on breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer
The UK National Health Service Choices website has information and personal stories about breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer; the not-for-profit organization Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about dealing with breast cancer and ovarian cancer
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001492
PMCID: PMC3728034  PMID: 23935463
9.  Birth Size and Breast Cancer Risk: Re-analysis of Individual Participant Data from 32 Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(9):e193.
Background
Birth size, perhaps a proxy for prenatal environment, might be a correlate of subsequent breast cancer risk, but findings from epidemiological studies have been inconsistent. We re-analysed individual participant data from published and unpublished studies to obtain more precise estimates of the magnitude and shape of the birth size–breast cancer association.
Methods and Findings
Studies were identified through computer-assisted and manual searches, and personal communication with investigators. Individual participant data from 32 studies, comprising 22,058 breast cancer cases, were obtained. Random effect models were used, if appropriate, to combine study-specific estimates of effect. Birth weight was positively associated with breast cancer risk in studies based on birth records (pooled relative risk [RR] per one standard deviation [SD] [= 0.5 kg] increment in birth weight: 1.06; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.02–1.09) and parental recall when the participants were children (1.02; 95% CI 0.99–1.05), but not in those based on adult self-reports, or maternal recall during the woman's adulthood (0.98; 95% CI 0.95–1.01) (p for heterogeneity between data sources = 0.003). Relative to women who weighed 3.000–3.499 kg, the risk was 0.96 (CI 0.80–1.16) in those who weighed < 2.500 kg, and 1.12 (95% CI 1.00–1.25) in those who weighed ≥ 4.000 kg (p for linear trend = 0.001) in birth record data. Birth length and head circumference from birth records were also positively associated with breast cancer risk (pooled RR per one SD increment: 1.06 [95% CI 1.03–1.10] and 1.09 [95% CI 1.03–1.15], respectively). Simultaneous adjustment for these three birth size variables showed that length was the strongest independent predictor of risk. The birth size effects did not appear to be confounded or mediated by established breast cancer risk factors and were not modified by age or menopausal status. The cumulative incidence of breast cancer per 100 women by age 80 y in the study populations was estimated to be 10.0, 10.0, 10.4, and 11.5 in those who were, respectively, in the bottom, second, third, and top fourths of the birth length distribution.
Conclusions
This pooled analysis of individual participant data is consistent with birth size, and in particular birth length, being an independent correlate of breast cancer risk in adulthood.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Last year, more than one million women discovered that they had breast cancer. In the US, nearly 200,000 women will face the same diagnosis this year and 40,000 will die because of breast cancer. Put another way, about one in eight US women will have breast cancer during her lifetime. Like all cancers, breast cancer begins when cells acquire genetic changes that allow them to divide uncontrollably and to move around the body (metastasize). This uncontrolled division leads to the formation of a lump that can be detected by mammography (a breast X-ray) or by manual examination of the breasts. Breast cancer is treated by surgical removal of the lump or, if the cancer has started to spread, by removal of the whole breast (mastectomy). Surgery is usually followed by radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and other treatments designed to kill any remaining cancer cells. Unlike some cancers, the outlook for women with breast cancer is good. In the US, for example, nearly 90% of affected women are still alive five years after their diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Scientists have identified several factors that increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer by comparing the characteristics of populations of women with and without breast cancer. Well-established risk factors include increasing age, not having children, and having a late menopause, but another potential risk factor for breast cancer is birth size. A baby's weight, length, and head circumference at birth (three related measures of birth size) depend on the levels of hormones (including estrogen, a hormone that often affects breast cancer growth) and other biological factors to which the baby is exposed during pregnancy—its prenatal environment. The idea that prenatal environment might also affect breast cancer risk in later life was first proposed in 1990, but the findings of studies that have tried to investigate this possibility have been inconsistent. Here, the researchers re-analyze individual participant data from a large number of studies into women's health conducted in Europe, Northern America, and China to get more precise information about the association between birth size and breast cancer risk.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 32 published and unpublished studies that had collected information on birth size and on the occurrence of breast cancer. They then obtained the individual participant data from these studies, which involved more than 22,000 women who had developed breast cancer and more than 600,000 women who had not. Their analyses of these data show that birth weight was positively associated with breast cancer risk in those studies where this measurement was recorded at birth or based on parental recall during the study participant's childhood (but not in those studies in which birth weight was self-reported or maternally recalled during the participant's adulthood). For example, women with recorded birth weights of more than 4 kg or more had a 12% higher chance of developing breast cancer than women who weighed 3–3.5 kg at birth. Birth length and head circumference were also positively associated with breast cancer risk, but birth length was the strongest single predictor of risk. Finally, the amount by which birth size affected breast cancer risk was not affected by allowing for other established risk factors.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide strong evidence that birth size—in particular, birth length—is a marker of a woman's breast cancer risk in adulthood although the mechanisms underlying this association are unclear. The researchers note that the observed effect of birth size on breast cancer risk is of a similar magnitude to that of other more established risk factors and estimate that 5% of all breast cancers in developed countries could be caused by a high birth size. Because practically all the studies included in this pooled analysis were done in developed countries, these findings may not hold for developing countries. Further investigations into how the prenatal environment may affect breast cancer risk might identify new ways to prevent this increasingly common cancer.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050193.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Trichopoulos and Lagiou
The US National Cancer Institute provides detailed information for patients and health professionals on all aspects of breast cancer, including information on risk factors for breast cancer (in English and Spanish)
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia provides information for patients about breast cancer; Medline Plus also provides links to many other breast cancer resources (in English and Spanish)
The UK charity Cancerbackup also provides detailed information about breast cancer
Cancer Research UK is the UK's leading charity dedicated to cancer research
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050193
PMCID: PMC2553821  PMID: 18828667
10.  Receptor-Defined Subtypes of Breast Cancer in Indigenous Populations in Africa: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(9):e1001720.
In a systematic review and meta-analysis, Isabel dos Santos Silva and colleagues estimate the prevalence of receptor-defined subtypes of breast cancer in North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Breast cancer is the most common female cancer in Africa. Receptor-defined subtypes are a major determinant of treatment options and disease outcomes but there is considerable uncertainty regarding the frequency of poor prognosis estrogen receptor (ER) negative subtypes in Africa. We systematically reviewed publications reporting on the frequency of breast cancer receptor-defined subtypes in indigenous populations in Africa.
Methods and Findings
Medline, Embase, and Global Health were searched for studies published between 1st January 1980 and 15th April 2014. Reported proportions of ER positive (ER+), progesterone receptor positive (PR+), and human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 positive (HER2+) disease were extracted and 95% CI calculated. Random effects meta-analyses were used to pool estimates. Fifty-four studies from North Africa (n = 12,284 women with breast cancer) and 26 from sub-Saharan Africa (n = 4,737) were eligible. There was marked between-study heterogeneity in the ER+ estimates in both regions (I2>90%), with the majority reporting proportions between 0.40 and 0.80 in North Africa and between 0.20 and 0.70 in sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, large between-study heterogeneity was observed for PR+ and HER2+ estimates (I2>80%, in all instances). Meta-regression analyses showed that the proportion of ER+ disease was 10% (4%–17%) lower for studies based on archived tumor blocks rather than prospectively collected specimens, and 9% (2%–17%) lower for those with ≥40% versus those with <40% grade 3 tumors. For prospectively collected samples, the pooled proportions for ER+ and triple negative tumors were 0.59 (0.56–0.62) and 0.21 (0.17–0.25), respectively, regardless of region. Limitations of the study include the lack of standardized procedures across the various studies; the low methodological quality of many studies in terms of the representativeness of their case series and the quality of the procedures for collection, fixation, and receptor testing; and the possibility that women with breast cancer may have contributed to more than one study.
Conclusions
The published data from the more appropriate prospectively measured specimens are consistent with the majority of breast cancers in Africa being ER+. As no single subtype dominates in the continent availability of receptor testing should be a priority, especially for young women with early stage disease where appropriate receptor-specific treatment modalities offer the greatest potential for reducing years of life lost.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Breast cancer is the commonest female tumor in Africa and death rates from the disease in some African countries are among the highest in the world. Breast cancer begins when cells in the breast acquire genetic changes that allow them to grow uncontrollably and to move around the body. When a breast lump is found (by mammography or manual examination), a few cells are collected from the lump (a biopsy) to look for abnormal cells and to test for the presence of estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2) on the cells. The hormones estrogen and progesterone promote the growth of normal breast cells and of ER+ and PR+ breast cancer cells. HER2 also controls the growth of breast cells. The receptor status of breast cancer is a major determinant of treatment options and prognosis (likely outcome). ER+ tumors, for example, are more receptive to hormonal therapy and have a better prognosis than ER− tumors, whereas HER2+ tumors, which make large amounts of HER2, are more aggressive than HER2− tumors. Breast cancer is treated by surgically removing the lump or the whole breast (mastectomy) if the tumor has already spread, before killing any remaining cancer cells with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. In addition, ER+, PR+, and HER2+ tumors are treated with drugs that block these receptors (including tamoxifen and trastuzumab), thereby slowing breast cancer growth.
Why Was This Study Done?
ER+ tumors predominate in white women but the proportion of ER+ tumors among US-born black women is slightly lower. The frequency of different receptor-defined subtypes of breast cancer in indigenous populations in Africa is currently unclear but policy makers need this information to help them decide whether routine receptor status testing should be introduced across Africa. Because receptor status is a major determination of treatment options and outcomes, it would be more important to introduce receptor testing if all subtypes are present in breast cancers in indigenous African women and if no one subtype dominates than if most breast cancers in these women are ER+. In this systematic review (a study that uses pre-defined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic) and meta-analysis (a statistical approach that combines the results of several studies), the researchers examine the distribution of receptor-defined breast cancer subtypes in indigenous populations in Africa.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 54 relevant studies from North Africa involving 12,284 women with breast cancer (mainly living in Egypt or Tunisia) and 26 studies from sub-Saharan Africa involving 4,737 women with breast cancer (mainly living in Nigeria or South Africa) and used the data from these studies to calculate the proportions of ER+, PR+, and HER2+ tumors (the number of receptor-positive tumors divided by the number of tumors with known receptor status) across Africa. The proportion of ER+ tumors varied markedly between studies, ranging between 0.40 and 0.80 in North Africa and between 0.20 and 0.70 in sub-Saharan Africa. Among prospectively collected samples (samples collected specifically for receptor-status testing; studies that determined the receptor status of breast cancers using stored samples reported a lower proportion of ER+ disease than studies that used prospectively collected samples), the overall pooled proportions of ER+ and triple negative tumors were 0.59 and 0.21, respectively.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Although these findings highlight the scarcity of data on hormone receptor and HER2 status in breast cancers in indigenous African populations, they provide new information about the distribution of breast cancer subtypes in Africa. Specifically, these findings suggest that although slightly more than half of breast cancers in Africa are ER+, no single subtype dominates. They also suggest that the distribution of receptor-defined breast cancer subtypes in Africa is similar to that found in Western populations. The accuracy of these findings is likely to be affected by the low methodological quality of many of the studies and the lack of standardized procedures. Thus, large well-designed studies are still needed to accurately quantify the distribution of various breast cancer subtypes across Africa. In the meantime, the current findings support the introduction of routine receptor testing across Africa, especially for young women with early stage breast cancer in whom the potential to improve survival and reduce the years of life lost by knowing the receptor status of an individual's tumor is greatest.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001720.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Sulma i Mohammed
The US National Cancer Institute (NCI) provides comprehensive information about cancer (in English and Spanish), including detailed information for patients and professionals about breast cancer including an online booklet for patients
Cancer Research UK, a not-for profit organization, provides information about cancer; its detailed information about breast cancer includes sections on tests for hormone receptors and HER2 and on treatments that target hormone receptors and treatments that target HER2
Breastcancer.org is a not-for-profit organization that provides up-to-date information about breast cancer (in English and Spanish), including information on hormone receptor status and HER2 status
The UK National Health Service Choices website has information and personal stories about breast cancer; the not-for profit organization Healthtalkonline also provides personal stories about dealing with breast cancer
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001720
PMCID: PMC4159229  PMID: 25202974
11.  The BARD1 Cys557Ser Variant and Breast Cancer Risk in Iceland 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(7):e217.
Background
Most, if not all, of the cellular functions of the BRCA1 protein are mediated through heterodimeric complexes composed of BRCA1 and a related protein, BARD1. Some breast-cancer-associated BRCA1 missense mutations disrupt the function of the BRCA1/BARD1 complex. It is therefore pertinent to determine whether variants of BARD1 confer susceptibility to breast cancer. Recently, a missense BARD1 variant, Cys557Ser, was reported to be at increased frequencies in breast cancer families. We investigated the role of the BARD1 Cys557Ser variant in a population-based cohort of 1,090 Icelandic patients with invasive breast cancer and 703 controls. We then used a computerized genealogy of the Icelandic population to study the relationships between the Cys557Ser variant and familial clustering of breast cancer.
Methods and Findings
The Cys557Ser allele was present at a frequency of 0.028 in patients with invasive breast cancer and 0.016 in controls (odds ratio [OR] = 1.82, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.11–3.01, p = 0.014). The alleleic frequency was 0.037 in a high-predisposition group of cases defined by having a family history of breast cancer, early onset of breast cancer, or multiple primary breast cancers (OR = 2.41, 95% CI 1.22–4.75, p = 0.015). Carriers of the common Icelandic BRCA2 999del5 mutation were found to have their risk of breast cancer further increased if they also carried the BARD1 variant: the frequency of the BARD1 variant allele was 0.047 (OR = 3.11, 95% CI 1.16–8.40, p = 0.046) in 999del5 carriers with breast cancer. This suggests that the lifetime probability of a BARD1 Cys557Ser/BRCA2 999del5 double carrier developing breast cancer could approach certainty. Cys557Ser carriers, with or without the BRCA2 mutation, had an increased risk of subsequent primary breast tumors after the first breast cancer diagnosis compared to non-carriers. Lobular and medullary breast carcinomas were overrepresented amongst Cys557Ser carriers. We found that an excess of ancestors of contemporary carriers lived in a single county in the southeast of Iceland and that all carriers shared a SNP haplotype, which is suggestive of a founder event. Cys557Ser was found on the same SNP haplotype background in the HapMap Project CEPH sample of Utah residents.
Conclusions
Our findings suggest that BARD1 Cys557Ser is an ancient variant that confers risk of single and multiple primary breast cancers, and this risk extends to carriers of the BRCA2 999del5 mutation.
Editors' Summary
Background.
About 13% of women (one in eight women) will develop breast cancer during their lifetime, but many factors affect the likelihood of any individual woman developing this disease, for example, whether she has had children and at what age, when she started and stopped her periods, and her exposure to certain chemicals or radiation. She may also have inherited a defective gene that affects her risk of developing breast cancer. Some 5%–10% of all breast cancers are familial, or inherited. In 20% of these cases, the gene that is defective is BRCA1 or BRCA2. Inheriting a defective copy of one of these genes greatly increases a woman's risk of developing breast cancer, while researchers think that the other inherited genes that predispose to breast cancer—most of which have not been identified yet—have a much weaker effect. These are described as low-penetrance genes. Inheriting one such gene only slightly increases breast cancer risk; a woman has to inherit several to increase her lifetime risk of cancer significantly.
Why Was This Study Done?
It is important to identify these additional predisposing gene variants because they might provide insights into why breast cancer develops, how to prevent it, and how to treat it. To find low-penetrance genes, researchers do case–control association studies. They find a large group of women with breast cancer (cases) and a similar group of women without cancer (controls), and examine how often a specific gene variant occurs in the two groups. If the variant is found more often in the cases than in the controls, it might be a variant that increases a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers involved in this study recruited Icelandic women who had had breast cancer and unaffected women, and looked for a specific variant—the Cys557Ser allele—of a gene called BARD1. They chose BARD1 because the protein it encodes interacts with the protein encoded by BRCA1. Because defects in BRCA1 increase the risk of breast cancer, defects in an interacting protein might have a similar effect. In addition, the Cys557Ser allele has been implicated in breast cancer in other studies. The researchers found that the Cys557Ser allele was nearly twice as common in women with breast cancer as in control women. It was also more common (but not by much) in women who had a family history of breast cancer or who had developed breast cancer more than once. And having the Cys557Ser allele seemed to increase the already high risk of breast cancer in women who had a BRCA2 variant (known as BRCA2 999del5) that accounts for 40% of inherited breast cancer risk in Iceland.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results indicate that inheriting the BARD1 Cys557Ser allele increases a woman's breast cancer risk but that she is unlikely to have a family history of the disease. Because carrying the Cys557Ser allele only slightly increases a woman's risk of breast cancer, for most women there is no clinical reason to test for this variant. Eventually, when all the low-penetrance genes that contribute to breast cancer risk have been identified, it might be helpful to screen women for the full set to determine whether they are at high risk of developing breast cancer. This will not happen for many years, however, since there might be tens or hundreds of these genes. For women who carry BRCA2 999del5, the situation might be different. It might be worth testing these women for the BARD1 Cys557Ser allele, the researchers explain, because the lifetime probability of developing breast cancer in women carrying both variants might approach 100%. This finding has clinical implications in terms of counseling and monitoring, as does the observation that Cys557Ser carriers have an increased risk of a second, independent breast cancer compared to non-carriers. However, all these findings need to be confirmed in other groups of patients before anyone is routinely tested for the BARD1 Cys557Ser allele.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030217.
• MedlinePlus pages about breast cancer
• Information on breast cancer from the United States National Cancer Institute
• Information on inherited breast cancer from the United States National Human Genome Research Institute
• United States National Cancer Institute information on genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 variants
• GeneTests pages on the involvement of BRCA1 and BRCA2 in hereditary breast and ovarian cancer
• Cancer Research UK's page on breast cancer statistics
In a population-based cohort of 1090 Icelandic patients, a Cys557Ser missense variant of the BARD1 gene, which interacts with BRCA1, increased the risk of single and multiple primary breast cancers.
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030217
PMCID: PMC1479388  PMID: 16768547
12.  A systematic screen for protein–lipid interactions in Saccharomyces cerevisiae 
Lipids are important cellular metabolites, with a wide range of structural and functional diversity. Many operate as signaling molecules. Lipids though have rarely been studied in large-scale interaction screen; they are poorly represented in current biological networks.Here, we describe the use of miniaturized lipid–arrays for the large-scale study of protein–lipid interactions. In yeast, we show general feasibility with a systematic screen implying 172 proteins. We report 530 protein–lipid associations, the majority is novel and several were validated using other techniques.The screen uncovers numerous insights into lipid function in yeast and equivalent systems in humans. It revealed (i) previously undetected cryptic lipid-binding domains, (ii) series of new cellular targets for sphingolipids and (iii) new ligands for some PH domains that can cooperatively bind additional lipids and work as coincidence sensor to integrate both phosphatidylinositol phosphates and sphingolipid signaling pathways.The significant number of biological insights uncovered shows that even major classes of metabolites have been insufficiently studied. This illustrates the general relevance of such systematic screens and calls for further system-wide analyses.
Deciphering the molecular mechanisms behind cellular processes requires the systematic charting of the multitude of interactions between all cellular components. While protein–protein and protein–DNA networks have been the subject of many systematic surveys, other critically important cellular components, such as lipids, have to date rarely been studied in large-scale interaction screens. Growing numbers of lipids are known to operate as signaling molecules. The importance of protein–lipid interactions is evident from the variety of protein domains that have evolved to bind particular lipids (Lemmon, 2008 #392) and from the large list of disorders, such as cancer and bipolar disorder, arising from altered protein–lipid interactions. The current understanding of protein–lipid recognition comes from the study of a limited number of lipids, principally PtdInsPs (Zhu et al, 2001 #16), and lipid-binding domains (LBDs) in isolation (Dowler et al, 2000 #81; Yu and Lemmon, 2001 #396; Yu et al, 2004 #31). For other signaling lipids, such as sphingolipids, intracellular targets and molecular mechanisms are only partially understood (Hannun and Obeid, 2008 #397). The importance of lipids in biological processes and their under-representation in current biological networks suggest the need for systematic, unbiased biochemical screens.
To systematically study protein–lipid interactions, we developed miniaturized arrays that contained sets of 56 lipids covering the main lipid classes in yeast. We used the arrays to determine the binding profiles of 172 soluble proteins. The selection included proteins that contained one or several predicted LBD that were lipid regulated or enzymes involved in lipid metabolism (Figure 1). We obtained 530 protein–lipid interactions (accuracy and coverage: 61 and 60%, respectively). More than half were supported by additional experimental evidences obtained from a large validation effort using a variety of biochemical and cell biology approaches, and the integration of a data set of genetic interactions (Figure 1). As a substantial fraction (45%) of the analyzed proteins were conserved in humans, the protein–lipid data set will have functional implications for higher eukaryotes and thus for human biology.
Overall, 68% of all interactions were novel or unexpected from either protein sequences or known LBDs specificities. We discovered cryptic LBDs that were previously undetected in Ecm25 (a RhoGAP) and Ira2 (a RasGAP). We also identified a set of proteins that bound sphingolipids, a class of bioactive lipids that play important signaling functions in yeast and higher eukaryotes. The exact mode of action for these lipids remains elusive and the data set points to series of new cellular targets. We identified 63 proteins, involved in endocytosis, cell polarity and lipid metabolism that interacted with sphingoid long-chain bases (LCBs), ceramides or phosphorylated LCBs (Figure 5).
Despite the importance of sphingolipids in signaling processes, only a few domains, such as START or Saposins, have been reported to specifically bind these lipids in higher eukaryotes, and none of them have been found in yeast. Interestingly, almost 60% of proteins binding to phosphorylated LCBs in our assay also contained a pleckstrin homology (PH) domain and bound PtdInsPs (Figure 5). This suggests some PH domains might have unanticipated ligands and also have a function in sphingolipid recognition. We showed, using a variety of biochemical and cell-based assays, that the PH domain of Slm1, a component of the TORC2 signaling pathway (Fadri et al, 2005 #429), can bind PtdIns(4,5)P2 and sphingolipid cooperatively. The structure of Slm1-PH, which we solved by X-ray crystallography at 2 Å resolution, suggests the presence of two positively charged binding pockets for anionic lipids. These results indicate that the PH domain of Slm1 might work as a coincidence sensor to integrate both PtdInsP and sphingolipid signaling pathways. This reinforces the emerging notion that cooperative mechanisms have important functions in PH domains functioning (Maffucci and Falasca, 2001 #528). These mechanisms initially described between PtdInsPs and proteins can now be extended to new lipid classes, illustrating the benefit of unbiased and systematic analyses.
This work shows the feasibility and benefits of large-scale analyses combining biochemical arrays and live-cell imaging for charting protein–lipid interactions. Accurate representations of biological processes require systematic charting of the physical and functional links between all cellular components. There is a clear need to expand molecular interaction space from proteome- to metabolome-wide efforts and of systematic classifications of bioactive molecules based on their binding profiles. The data provided here represents an excellent resource to enhance the understanding of lipids function in eukaryotic systems.
Protein–metabolite networks are central to biological systems, but are incompletely understood. Here, we report a screen to catalog protein–lipid interactions in yeast. We used arrays of 56 metabolites to measure lipid-binding fingerprints of 172 proteins, including 91 with predicted lipid-binding domains. We identified 530 protein–lipid associations, the majority of which are novel. To show the data set's biological value, we studied further several novel interactions with sphingolipids, a class of conserved bioactive lipids with an elusive mode of action. Integration of live-cell imaging suggests new cellular targets for these molecules, including several with pleckstrin homology (PH) domains. Validated interactions with Slm1, a regulator of actin polarization, show that PH domains can have unexpected lipid-binding specificities and can act as coincidence sensors for both phosphatidylinositol phosphates and phosphorylated sphingolipids.
doi:10.1038/msb.2010.87
PMCID: PMC3010107  PMID: 21119626
interactome; lipid–array; network; pleckstrin homology domains; sphingolipids
13.  P53 autoantibodies in 1006 patients followed up for breast cancer 
Breast Cancer Research : BCR  2000;2(6):438-443.
Serial plasma samples from 1006 patients with breast cancer revealed: (i) no correlation of p53 autoantibody status with disease status at the time of sample collection, or with menopausal status at time of primary diagnosis of breast cancer; (ii) 155 out of 1006 (15%) of patients were positive for p53 autoantibodies, and these patients tended to have a persistent autoantibody status throughout follow up, irrespective of disease behaviour; and (iii) where a negative autoantibody status was found at primary diagnosis of breast cancer, this negative status persisted throughout follow up, irrespective of later disease behaviour. We conclude that screening for p53 autoantibody status is not informative on residual tumour activity nor on therapeutic responsiveness.
Introduction:
Dysfunction of the tumour-suppressor protein, p53, may be due to either mutational or epigenetic factors, each of which may lead to accumulation of cytoplasmic p53. Abnormal accumulation of p53 in breast cancer tissue is predictive of poor prognosis [1,2]. Humoral studies [3,4] have shown that cancer patients may develop immunity to abnormally expressed p53, as revealed by p53 autoantibodies in the blood. Again, prognostic correlates have been noted, with presence of circulating p53 autoantibodies at diagnosis of breast cancer being associated with reduced overall survival [5,6] and with poor prognostic factors such as high histological grade and the absence of hormone receptors [5,7,8].
Little is known of the potential value of p53 autoantibody in follow up of cancer. In lung cancer there is evidence that autoantibodies to p53 may provide a useful tool to monitor response to therapy [9,10], whereas serial measurements of autoantibodies to p53 in 40 patients with advanced ovarian cancer were not found to be clinically useful [11]. In breast cancer some 30% of node-negative patients will relapse within 5 years, but there is no current means to predict those who are at risk.
We performed the present study to ask if the presence of autoantibodies to p53 has any association with breast cancer progression.
Materials and method:
A library of plasma samples were collected from all patients attending one general oncology clinic for postoperative follow up of breast cancer. The clinical status of each patient at the time of sampling was summarized. An average of eight plasma samples were cryopreserved for each patient over a period of 15 years.
The enzyme-linked immusorbent assay (ELISA) for p53 autoantibodies was developed in-house, based on the ELISA procedure of Lubin et al [3]. Our in-house method is detailed in the full text of this article. In one assay series we compared a commercial ELISA kit for p53 autoantibodies with our in-house ELISA. A total of 20 patients' samples were tested, representing a range of positive and negative readings. Two samples scored as strongly positive with the in-house assay, but only one of these two scored positive with the commercial assay. Having established sensitivity, specificity and reproducibility of the in-house assay, we judged that this was superior to the commercial assay both in terms of sensitivity and of cost (£1 per test compared with £23 per test). The in-house assay was thus used throughout the present study.
Results:
Serial plasma samples from 1006 patients with breast cancer revealed the following: (i) no correlation of p53 autoantibody status with disease status at the time of sample collection (Table 1), or with menopausal status at time of primary diagnosis of breast cancer (Table 2); (ii) 155 out of 1006 (15%) of patients were positive for p53 autoantibodies, and these patients tended to have a persistent autoantibody status throughout follow up, irrespective of disease behaviour; and (iii) where a negative autoantibody status was found at primary diagnosis of breast cancer, this negative status persisted throughout follow up, irrespective of later disease behaviour (Table 3).
Discussion:
As a working hypothesis, we proposed that levels of autoantibodies to p53 would reflect tumour behaviour. However, we found that the presence or absence of p53 autoantibodies was not predictive of presence or absence of recurrent disease. There was an equivalent incidence of active disease at the time of sampling in both the autoantibody-negative and autoantibody-positive groups, these being 25.2 and 28.7%, respectively. Thus, humoral immune activity against p53 appeared to be relatively restricted to a subgroup of patients in whom, once an autoantibody response had been generated, antibody was likely to persist regardless of tumour behaviour. Conversely, where no detectable p53 autoantibody was present at the time of primary diagnosis, these patients remained similarly negative for antibody, irrespective of subsequent disease activity (Table 3).
In contrast to shed markers that correlate with tumour mass, such as CA15.3 for cancer of the breast, any tumour-related immune response will be subject to complex regulation. Autoantibody responses to p53 will require appropriate primary immunization; initial low-dose antigen exposure may induce immune tolerance and lack of response. Higher antigen doses may activate either antibody-mediated immunity, or cellular immunity.
In breast cancer patients, our results suggest that, once an active humoral response against p53 is established, then this remains active. This persistent humoral reaction may be driven by persistent antigenic stimulation by p53 protein derived from overexpression of p53 at distant metastatic sites; alternatively, irradiated normal tissue may be a source of continued antigenic stimulation, because a long-term side effect of radiation therapy is an increased expression of p53 in normal breast tissue that persists for several years [12]. Since the great majority of our total patient cohort had received radiotherapy, humoral immunity to p53 associated with primary disease might persist, even in those patients who enter remission, due to tumour-independent antigenic stimulation.
Loss of p53 function is known to correlate with loss of efficacy of cancer therapy in vivo [13,14]. This raised the possibility that autoantibodies to p53 that develop during follow up might indicate those patients whose tumor has become resistant to therapy. However, the present results show that, if no immunity has been generated at the time of primary diagnosis, then later immunity is unlikely to occur. This corresponds to the finding that expression of p53 antigen in biopies of locally advanced breast cancer did not correlate with drug resistance [15,16]. Overall, the present observations show that screening for p53 autoantibody status is not informative on residual tumour activity, or on therapeutic responsiveness. We conclude that the potential value of p53 autoantibody screening in patients with breast cancer is limited to the prognostic information obtained at diagnosis.
PMCID: PMC13921  PMID: 11056691
breast; cancer; monitoring; p53 autoantibodies
14.  Cancer Screening with Digital Mammography for Women at Average Risk for Breast Cancer, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) for Women at High Risk 
Executive Summary
Objective
The purpose of this review is to determine the effectiveness of 2 separate modalities, digital mammography (DM) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), relative to film mammography (FM), in the screening of women asymptomatic for breast cancer. A third analysis assesses the effectiveness and safety of the combination of MRI plus mammography (MRI plus FM) in screening of women at high risk. An economic analysis was also conducted.
Research Questions
How does the sensitivity and specificity of DM compare to FM?
How does the sensitivity and specificity of MRI compare to FM?
How do the recall rates compare among these screening modalities, and what effect might this have on radiation exposure? What are the risks associated with radiation exposure?
How does the sensitivity and specificity of the combination of MRI plus FM compare to either MRI or FM alone?
What are the economic considerations?
Clinical Need
The effectiveness of FM with respect to breast cancer mortality in the screening of asymptomatic average- risk women over the age of 50 has been established. However, based on a Medical Advisory Secretariat review completed in March 2006, screening is not recommended for women between the ages of 40 and 49 years. Guidelines published by the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Care recommend mammography screening every 1 to 2 years for women aged 50 years and over, hence, the inclusion of such women in organized breast cancer screening programs. In addition to the uncertainty of the effectiveness of mammography screening from the age of 40 years, there is concern over the risks associated with mammographic screening for the 10 years between the ages of 40 and 49 years.
The lack of effectiveness of mammography screening starting at the age of 40 years (with respect to breast cancer mortality) is based on the assumption that the ability to detect cancer decreases with increased breast tissue density. As breast density is highest in the premenopausal years (approximately 23% of postmenopausal and 53% of premenopausal women having at least 50% of the breast occupied by high density), mammography screening is not promoted in Canada nor in many other countries for women under the age of 50 at average risk for breast cancer. It is important to note, however, that screening of premenopausal women (i.e., younger than 50 years of age) at high risk for breast cancer by virtue of a family history of cancer or a known genetic predisposition (e.g., having tested positive for the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and/or BRCA2) is appropriate. Thus, this review will assess the effectiveness of breast cancer screening with modalities other than film mammography, specifically DM and MRI, for both pre/perimenopausal and postmenopausal age groups.
International estimates of the epidemiology of breast cancer show that the incidence of breast cancer is increasing for all ages combined whereas mortality is decreasing, though at a slower rate. The observed decreases in mortality rates may be attributable to screening, in addition to advances in breast cancer therapy over time. Decreases in mortality attributable to screening may be a result of the earlier detection and treatment of invasive cancers, in addition to the increased detection of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), of which certain subpathologies are less lethal. Evidence from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (better known as SEER) cancer registry in the United States, indicates that the age-adjusted incidence of DCIS has increased almost 10-fold over a 20 year period, from 2.7 to 25 per 100,000.
There is a 4-fold lower incidence of breast cancer in the 40 to 49 year age group than in the 50 to 69 year age group (approximately 140 per 100,000 versus 500 per 100,000 women, respectively). The sensitivity of FM is also lower among younger women (approximately 75%) than for women aged over 50 years (approximately 85%). Specificity is approximately 80% for younger women versus 90% for women over 50 years. The increased density of breast tissue in younger women is likely responsible for the decreased accuracy of FM.
Treatment options for breast cancer vary with the stage of disease (based on tumor size, involvement of surrounding tissue, and number of affected axillary lymph nodes) and its pathology, and may include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. Surgery is the first-line intervention for biopsy-confirmed tumors. The subsequent use of radiation, chemotherapy or hormonal treatments is dependent on the histopathologic characteristics of the tumor and the type of surgery. There is controversy regarding the optimal treatment of DCIS, which is considered a noninvasive tumour.
Women at high risk for breast cancer are defined as genetic carriers of the more commonly known breast cancer genes (BRCA1, BRCA2 TP53), first degree relatives of carriers, women with varying degrees of high risk family histories, and/or women with greater than 20% lifetime risk for breast cancer based on existing risk models. Genetic carriers for this disease, primarily women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, have a lifetime probability of approximately 85% of developing breast cancer. Preventive options for these women include surgical interventions such as prophylactic mastectomy and/or oophorectomy, i.e., removal of the breasts and/or ovaries. Therefore, it is important to evaluate the benefits and risks of different screening modalities, to identify additional options for these women.
This Medical Advisory Secretariat review is the second of 2 parts on breast cancer screening, and concentrates on the evaluation of both DM and MRI relative to FM, the standard of care. Part I of this review (March 2006) addressed the effectiveness of screening mammography in 40 to 49 year old average-risk women. The overall objective of the present review is to determine the optimal screening modality based on the evidence.
Evidence Review Strategy
The Medical Advisory Secretariat followed its standard procedures and searched the following electronic databases: Ovid MEDLINE, EMBASE, Ovid MEDLINE In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and The International Network of Agencies for Health Technology Assessment database. The subject headings and keywords searched included breast cancer, breast neoplasms, mass screening, digital mammography, magnetic resonance imaging. The detailed search strategies can be viewed in Appendix 1.
Included in this review are articles specific to screening and do not include evidence on diagnostic mammography. The search was further restricted to English-language articles published between January 1996 and April 2006. Excluded were case reports, comments, editorials, nonsystematic reviews, and letters.
Digital Mammography: In total, 224 articles specific to DM screening were identified. These were examined against the inclusion/exclusion criteria described below, resulting in the selection and review of 5 health technology assessments (HTAs) (plus 1 update) and 4 articles specific to screening with DM.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging: In total, 193 articles specific to MRI were identified. These were examined against the inclusion/exclusion criteria described below, resulting in the selection and review of 2 HTAs and 7 articles specific to screening with MRI.
The evaluation of the addition of FM to MRI in the screening of women at high risk for breast cancer was also conducted within the context of standard search procedures of the Medical Advisory Secretariat. as outlined above. The subject headings and keywords searched included the concepts of breast cancer, magnetic resonance imaging, mass screening, and high risk/predisposition to breast cancer. The search was further restricted to English-language articles published between September 2007 and January 15, 2010. Case reports, comments, editorials, nonsystematic reviews, and letters were not excluded.
MRI plus mammography: In total, 243 articles specific to MRI plus FM screening were identified. These were examined against the inclusion/exclusion criteria described below, resulting in the selection and review of 2 previous HTAs, and 1 systematic review of 11 paired design studies.
Inclusion Criteria
English-language articles, and English or French-language HTAs published from January 1996 to April 2006, inclusive.
Articles specific to screening of women with no personal history of breast cancer.
Studies in which DM or MRI were compared with FM, and where the specific outcomes of interest were reported.
Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) or paired studies only for assessment of DM.
Prospective, paired studies only for assessment of MRI.
Exclusion Criteria
Studies in which outcomes were not specific to those of interest in this report.
Studies in which women had been previously diagnosed with breast cancer.
Studies in which the intervention (DM or MRI) was not compared with FM.
Studies assessing DM with a sample size of less than 500.
Intervention
Digital mammography.
Magnetic resonance imaging.
Comparator
Screening with film mammography.
Outcomes of Interest
Breast cancer mortality (although no studies were found with such long follow-up).
Sensitivity.
Specificity.
Recall rates.
Summary of Findings
Digital Mammography
There is moderate quality evidence that DM is significantly more sensitive than FM in the screening of asymptomatic women aged less than 50 years, those who are premenopausal or perimenopausal, and those with heterogeneously or extremely dense breast tissue (regardless of age).
It is not known what effect these differences in sensitivity will have on the more important effectiveness outcome measure of breast cancer mortality, as there was no evidence of such an assessment.
Other factors have been set out to promote DM, for example, issues of recall rates and reading and examination times. Our analysis did not show that recall rates were necessarily improved in DM, though examination times were lower than for FM. Other factors including storage and retrieval of screens were not the subject of this analysis.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
There is moderate quality evidence that the sensitivity of MRI is significantly higher than that of FM in the screening of women at high risk for breast cancer based on genetic or familial factors, regardless of age.
Radiation Risk Review
Cancer Care Ontario conducted a review of the evidence on radiation risk in screening with mammography women at high risk for breast cancer. From this review of recent literature and risk assessment that considered the potential impact of screening mammography in cohorts of women who start screening at an earlier age or who are at increased risk of developing breast cancer due to genetic susceptibility, the following conclusions can be drawn:
For women over 50 years of age, the benefits of mammography greatly outweigh the risk of radiation-induced breast cancer irrespective of the level of a woman’s inherent breast cancer risk.
Annual mammography for women aged 30 – 39 years who carry a breast cancer susceptibility gene or who have a strong family breast cancer history (defined as a first degree relative diagnosed in their thirties) has a favourable benefit:risk ratio. Mammography is estimated to detect 16 to 18 breast cancer cases for every one induced by radiation (Table 1). Initiation of screening at age 35 for this same group would increase the benefit:risk ratio to an even more favourable level of 34-50 cases detected for each one potentially induced.
Mammography for women under 30 years of age has an unfavourable benefit:risk ratio due to the challenges of detecting cancer in younger breasts, the aggressiveness of cancers at this age, the potential for radiation susceptibility at younger ages and a greater cumulative radiation exposure.
Mammography when used in combination with MRI for women who carry a strong breast cancer susceptibility (e.g., BRCA1/2 carriers), which if begun at age 35 and continued for 35 years, may confer greatly improved benefit:risk ratios which were estimated to be about 220 to one.
While there is considerable uncertainty in the risk of radiation-induced breast cancer, the risk expressed in published studies is almost certainly conservative as the radiation dose absorbed by women receiving mammography recently has been substantially reduced by newer technology.
A CCO update of the mammography radiation risk literature for 2008 and 2009 gave rise to one article by Barrington de Gonzales et al. published in 2009 (Barrington de Gonzales et al., 2009, JNCI, vol. 101: 205-209). This article focuses on estimating the risk of radiation-induced breast cancer for mammographic screening of young women at high risk for breast cancer (with BRCA gene mutations). Based on an assumption of a 15% to 25% or less reduction in mortality from mammography in these high risk women, the authors conclude that such a reduction is not substantially greater than the risk of radiation-induced breast cancer mortality when screening before the age of 34 years. That is, there would be no net benefit from annual mammographic screening of BRCA mutation carriers at ages 25-29 years; the net benefit would be zero or small if screening occurs in 30-34 year olds, and there would be some net benefit at age 35 years or older.
The Addition of Mammography to Magnetic Resonance Imaging
The effects of the addition of FM to MRI screening of high risk women was also assessed, with inclusion and exclusion criteria as follows:
Inclusion Criteria
English-language articles and English or French-language HTAs published from September 2007 to January 15, 2010.
Articles specific to screening of women at high risk for breast cancer, regardless of the definition of high risk.
Studies in which accuracy data for the combination of MRI plus FM are available to be compared to that of MRI and FM alone.
RCTs or prospective, paired studies only.
Studies in which women were previously diagnosed with breast cancer were also included.
Exclusion Criteria
Studies in which outcomes were not specific to those of interest in this report.
Studies in which there was insufficient data on the accuracy of MRI plus FM.
Intervention
Both MRI and FM.
Comparators
Screening with MRI alone and FM alone.
Outcomes of Interest
Sensitivity.
Specificity.
Summary of Findings
Magnetic Resonance Imaging Plus Mammography
Moderate GRADE Level Evidence that the sensitivity of MRI plus mammography is significantly higher than that of MRI or FM alone, although the specificity remains either unchanged or decreases in the screening of women at high risk for breast cancer based on genetic/familial factors, regardless of age.
These studies include women at high risk defined as BRCA1/2 or TP53 carriers, first degree relatives of carriers, women with varying degrees of high risk family histories, and/or >20% lifetime risk based on existing risk models. This definition of high risk accounts for approximately 2% of the female adult population in Ontario.
PMCID: PMC3377503  PMID: 23074406
15.  Screening Mammography for Women Aged 40 to 49 Years at Average Risk for Breast Cancer 
Executive Summary
Objective
The aim of this review was to determine the effectiveness of screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49 years at average risk for breast cancer.
Clinical Need
The effectiveness of screening mammography in women aged over 50 years has been established, yet the issue of screening in women aged 40 to 49 years is still unsettled. The Canadian Task Force of Preventive Services, which sets guidelines for screening mammography for all provinces, supports neither the inclusion nor the exclusion of this screening procedure for 40- to 49-year-old women from the periodic health examination. In addition to this, 2 separate reviews, one conducted in Quebec in 2005 and the other in Alberta in 2000, each concluded that there is an absence of convincing evidence on the effectiveness of screening mammography for women in this age group who are at average risk for breast cancer.
In the United States, there is disagreement among organizations on whether population-based mammography should begin at the age of 40 or 50 years. The National Institutes of Health, the American Association for Cancer Research, and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend against screening women in their 40s, whereas the United States Preventive Services Task Force, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend screening mammograms for women aged 40 to 49 years. Furthermore, in comparing screening guidelines between Canada and the United States, it is also important to recognize that “standard care” within a socialized medical system such as Canada’s differs from that of the United States. The National Breast Screening Study (NBSS-1), a randomized screening trial conducted in multiple centres across Canada, has shown there is no benefit in mortality from breast cancer from annual mammograms in women randomized between the ages of 40 and 49, relative to standard care (i.e. physical exam and teaching of breast-self examination on entry to the study, with usual community care thereafter).
At present, organized screening programs in Canada systematically screen women starting at 50 years of age, although with a physician’s referral, a screening mammogram is an insured service in Ontario for women under 50 years of age.
International estimates of the epidemiology of breast cancer show that the incidence of breast cancer is increasing for all ages combined, whereas mortality is decreasing, though at a slower rate. These decreasing mortality rates may be attributed to screening and advances in breast cancer therapy over time. Decreases in mortality attributable to screening may be a result of the earlier detection and treatment of invasive cancers, in addition to the increased detection of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), of which certain subpathologies are less lethal. Evidence from the SEER cancer registry in the United States indicates that the age-adjusted incidence of DCIS has increased almost 10-fold over a 20-year period (from 2.7 to 25 per 100,000).
The incidence of breast cancer is lower in women aged 40 to 49 years than in women aged 50 to 69 years (about 140 per 100,000 versus 500 per 100,000 women, respectively), as is the sensitivity (about 75% versus 85% for women aged under and over 50, respectively) and specificity of mammography (about 80% versus 90% for women aged under and over 50, respectively). The increased density of breast tissue in younger women is mainly responsible for the lower accuracy of this procedure in this age group. In addition, as the proportion of breast cancers that occur before the age of 50 are more likely to be associated with genetic predisposition as compared with those diagnosed in women after the age of 50, mammography may not be an optimal screening method for younger women.
Treatment options vary with the stage of disease (based on tumor size, involvement of surrounding tissue, and number of affected axillary lymph nodes) and its pathology, and may include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiotherapy.
Surgery is the first-line intervention for biopsy confirmed tumours. The subsequent use of radiation, chemotherapy, or hormonal treatments is dependent on the histopathologic characteristics of the tumor and the type of surgery. There is controversy regarding the optimal treatment of DCIS, which is noninvasive.
With such controversy as to the effectiveness of mammography and the potential risk associated with women being overtreated or actual cancers being missed, and the increased risk of breast cancer associated with exposure to annual mammograms over a 10-year period, the Ontario Health Technology Advisory Committee requested this review of screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49 years at average risk for breast cancer. This review is the first of 2 parts and concentrates on the effectiveness of screening mammography (i.e., film mammography, FM) for women at average risk aged 40 to 49 years. The second part will be an evaluation of screening by either magnetic resonance imaging or digital mammography, with the objective of determining the optimal screening modality in these younger women.
Review Strategy
The following questions were asked:
Does screening mammography for women aged 40 to 49 years who are at average risk for breast cancer reduce breast cancer mortality?
What is the sensitivity and specificity of mammography for this age group?
What are the risks associated with annual screening from ages 40 to 49?
What are the risks associated with false positive and false negative mammography results?
What are the economic considerations if evidence for effectiveness is established?
The Medical Advisory Secretariat followed its standard procedures and searched these electronic databases: Ovid MEDLINE, EMBASE, Ovid MEDLINE In-Process and Other Non-Indexed Citations, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and the International Network of Agencies for Health Technology Assessment.
Keywords used in the search were breast cancer, breast neoplasms, mass screening, and mammography.
In total, the search yielded 6,359 articles specific to breast cancer screening and mammography. This did not include reports on diagnostic mammograms. The search was further restricted to English-language randomized controlled trials (RCTs), systematic reviews, and meta-analyses published between 1995 and 2005. Excluded were case reports, comments, editorials, and letters, which narrowed the results to 516 articles and previous health technology policy assessments.
These were examined against the criteria outlined below. This resulted in the inclusion of 5 health technology assessments, the Canadian Preventive Services Task Force report, the United States Preventive Services Task Force report, 1 Cochrane review, and 8 RCTs.
Inclusion Criteria
English-language articles, and English and French-language health technology policy assessments, conducted by other organizations, from 1995 to 2005
Articles specific to RCTs of screening mammography of women at average risk for breast cancer that included results for women randomized to studies between the ages of 40 and 49 years
Studies in which women were randomized to screening with or without mammography, although women may have had clinical breast examinations and/or may have been conducting breast self-examination.
UK Age Trial results published in December 2006.
Exclusion Criteria
Observational studies, including those nested within RCTs
RCTs that do not include results on women between the ages of 40 and 49 at randomization
Studies in which mammography was compared with other radiologic screening modalities, for example, digital mammography, magnetic resonance imaging or ultrasound.
Studies in which women randomized had a personal history of breast cancer.
Intervention
Film mammography
Comparators
Within RCTs, the comparison group would have been women randomized to not undergo screening mammography, although they may have had clinical breast examinations and/or have been conducting breast self-examination.
Outcomes of Interest
Breast cancer mortality
Summary of Findings
There is Level 1 Canadian evidence that screening women between the ages of 40 and 49 years who are at average risk for breast cancer is not effective, and that the absence of a benefit is sustained over a maximum follow-up period of 16 years.
All remaining studies that reported on women aged under 50 years were based on subset analyses. They provide additional evidence that, when all these RCTs are taken into account, there is no significant reduction in breast cancer mortality associated with screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49 years.
Conclusions
There is Level 1 evidence that screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49 years at average risk for breast cancer is not effective in reducing mortality.
Moreover, risks associated with exposure to mammographic radiation, the increased risk of missed cancers due to lower mammographic sensitivity, and the psychological impact of false positives, are not inconsequential.
The UK Age Trial results published in December 2006 did not change these conclusions.
PMCID: PMC3377515  PMID: 23074501
16.  Subtyping of Breast Cancer by Immunohistochemistry to Investigate a Relationship between Subtype and Short and Long Term Survival: A Collaborative Analysis of Data for 10,159 Cases from 12 Studies 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(5):e1000279.
Paul Pharoah and colleagues evaluate the prognostic significance of immunohistochemical subtype classification in more than 10,000 breast cancer cases with early disease, and examine the influence of a patient's survival time on the prediction of future survival.
Background
Immunohistochemical markers are often used to classify breast cancer into subtypes that are biologically distinct and behave differently. The aim of this study was to estimate mortality for patients with the major subtypes of breast cancer as classified using five immunohistochemical markers, to investigate patterns of mortality over time, and to test for heterogeneity by subtype.
Methods and Findings
We pooled data from more than 10,000 cases of invasive breast cancer from 12 studies that had collected information on hormone receptor status, human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2) status, and at least one basal marker (cytokeratin [CK]5/6 or epidermal growth factor receptor [EGFR]) together with survival time data. Tumours were classified as luminal and nonluminal tumours according to hormone receptor expression. These two groups were further subdivided according to expression of HER2, and finally, the luminal and nonluminal HER2-negative tumours were categorised according to expression of basal markers. Changes in mortality rates over time differed by subtype. In women with luminal HER2-negative subtypes, mortality rates were constant over time, whereas mortality rates associated with the luminal HER2-positive and nonluminal subtypes tended to peak within 5 y of diagnosis and then decline over time. In the first 5 y after diagnosis the nonluminal tumours were associated with a poorer prognosis, but over longer follow-up times the prognosis was poorer in the luminal subtypes, with the worst prognosis at 15 y being in the luminal HER2-positive tumours. Basal marker expression distinguished the HER2-negative luminal and nonluminal tumours into different subtypes. These patterns were independent of any systemic adjuvant therapy.
Conclusions
The six subtypes of breast cancer defined by expression of five markers show distinct behaviours with important differences in short term and long term prognosis. Application of these markers in the clinical setting could have the potential to improve the targeting of adjuvant chemotherapy to those most likely to benefit. The different patterns of mortality over time also suggest important biological differences between the subtypes that may result in differences in response to specific therapies, and that stratification of breast cancers by clinically relevant subtypes in clinical trials is urgently required.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Each year, more than one million women discover they have breast cancer. Breast cancer begins when cells in the breast's milk-producing glands or in the tubes (ducts) that take milk to the nipples acquire genetic changes that allow them to divide uncontrollably and to move around the body (metastasize). The uncontrolled cell division leads to the formation of a lump that can be detected by mammography (a breast X-ray) or by manual breast examination. Breast cancer is treated by surgical removal of the lump or, if the cancer has started to spread, by removal of the whole breast (mastectomy). Surgery is usually followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy. These “adjuvant” therapies are designed to kill any remaining cancer cells but can make women very ill. Generally speaking, the outlook (prognosis) for women with breast cancer is good. In the United States, for example, nearly 90% of affected women are still alive five years after their diagnosis.
Why Was This Study Done?
Because there are several types of cells in the milk ducts and glands, there are several subtypes of breast cancer. Luminal tumors, for example, begin in the cells that line the ducts and glands and usually grow slowly; basal-type tumors arise in deeper layers of the ducts and glands and tend to grow quickly. Clinicians need to distinguish between different breast cancer subtypes so that they can give women a realistic prognosis and can give adjuvant treatments to those women who are most likely to benefit. One way to distinguish between different subtypes is to stain breast cancer samples using antibodies (immune system proteins) that recognize particular proteins (antigens). This “immunohistochemical” approach can identify several breast cancer subtypes but its prognostic value and the best way to classify breast tumors remains unclear. In this study, the researchers investigate the survival over time of women with six major subtypes of breast cancer classified using five immunohistochemical markers: the estrogen receptor and the progesterone receptor (two hormone receptors expressed by luminal cells), the human epidermal growth factors receptor-2 (HER2, a protein marker used to select specific adjuvant therapies), and CK5/6 and EGFR (proteins expressed by basal cells).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers pooled data on survival time and on the expression of the five immunohistochemical markers from more than 10,000 cases of breast cancer from 12 studies. They then divided the tumors into six subtypes on the basis of their marker expression: luminal (hormone receptor-positive), HER2-positive tumors; luminal, HER2-negative, basal marker-positive tumors; luminal, HER2-negative, basal marker-negative tumors; nonluminal (hormone receptor-negative), HER2-positive tumors; nonluminal, HER2-negative, basal marker-positive tumors; and nonluminal, HER2-negative, basal marker-negative tumors. In the first five years after diagnosis, women with nonluminal tumor subtypes had the worst prognosis but at 15 years after diagnosis, women with luminal HER2-positive tumors had the worst prognosis. Furthermore, death rates (the percentage of affected women dying each year) differed by subtype over time. Thus, women with the two luminal HER2-negative subtypes were as likely to die soon after diagnosis as at later times whereas the death rates associated with nonluminal subtypes peaked within five years of diagnosis and then declined.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These and other findings indicate that the six subtypes of breast cancer defined by the expression of five immunohistochemical markers have distinct biological characteristics that are associated with important differences in short-term and long-term outcomes. Because different laboratories measured the immunohistochemical markers using different methods, it is possible that some of the tumors included in this study were misclassified. However, the finding of clear differences in the behavior of the immunochemically classified subtypes suggests that the use of the five markers for tumor classification might be robust enough for routine clinical practice. The application of these markers in the clinical setting, suggest the researchers, could improve the targeting of adjuvant therapies to those women most likely to benefit. Furthermore, note the researchers, these findings strongly suggest that subtype-specific responses should be evaluated in future clinical trials of treatments for breast cancer.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000279.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Stefan Ambs
The US National Cancer Institute provides detailed information for patients and health professionals on all aspects of breast cancer (in English and Spanish)
The American Cancer Society has a detailed guide to breast cancer, which includes information on the immunochemical classification of breast cancer subtypes
The UK charities MacMillan Cancer Support and Cancer Research UK also provide detailed information about breast cancer
The MedlinePlus Encyclopedia provides information for patients about breast cancer; Medline Plus provides links to many other breast cancer resources (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000279
PMCID: PMC2876119  PMID: 20520800
17.  BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in central and southern Italian patients 
Breast Cancer Research : BCR  2000;2(4):307-310.
Protein truncation test (PTT) and single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) assay were used to scan the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes in 136 unrelated Italian breast/ovarian cancer patients. In the sample tested, BRCA1 and BRCA2 equally contributed to site-specific breast cancer patients who reported one to two breast cancer-affected first-/ second-degree relative(s) or who were diagnosed before age 40 years in the absence of a family history of breast/ovarian cancer. BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations were mostly found in patients with disease diagnosis before and after age 50 years, respectively. Moreover, in cases with familial clustering of site-specific breast cancer, BRCA1 mostly accounted for tumours diagnosed before age 40 years and BRCA2 for tumours diagnosed after age 50 years. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation spectrum was consistent with a lack of significant founder effects in the sample of patients studied.
Introduction:
Germline BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations account for most hereditary breast/ovarian cancers and are associated with male breast cancer. Furthermore, constitutional mutations in these genes may occur in breast/ovarian cancer patients that do not meet stringent criteria of autosomal-dominant predisposition. The relevance of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in such patients is still debated.
Objectives:
We sought to determine the impact of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in a population of patients from central and southern Italy. We analyzed the BRCA1 and BRCA2 coding regions in 136 unrelated probands: 117 females with breast/ovarian cancer and 19 males with breast cancer. This population of patients was mostly representative of cases who are at risk for hereditary susceptibility, but who do not meet stringent criteria of autosomal-dominant predisposition.
Methods:
Probands, subclassified as follows, were consecutively recruited depending on informed consent from patients attending breast cancer clinics in Rome and Naples. Selection criteria for females were as follows: breast cancer with breast cancer family history [one to two first-/second-degree relative(s), n = 55]; breast cancer diagnosed before age 40 years (no breast/ovarian cancer family history, n = 28); bilateral breast cancer (regardless of age and family history, n =10); breast cancer associated with gastrointestinal, pancreatic or uterine cancers [synchronous/metachronous or in first-degree relative(s), n = 9]; breast or ovarian cancer with family history of breast-ovarian/ovarian cancer (at least 1 first-/ second-degree relative, n = 10); and ovarian cancer with no breast/ovarian cancer family history (n = 5). Males with breast cancer were recruited regardless of age and family history. BRCA1 exon 11 and BRCA2 exons 10 and 11 were screened by PTT. Coding BRCA1 exons 2, 3, 5-10 and 12-24 and BRCA2 exons 2-9 and 12-27 were screened by SSCP. Primers are listed in Table 1. In 27 cases, analyzed by PTT along the entire BRCA1 coding sequence, BRCA1 SSCP analysis was limited to exons 2, 5, 20 and 24. Mutations were verified by sequence analysis on two independent blood samples.
Results:
Deleterious germline BRCA1/BRCA2 mutations were detected in 11 out of 136 cases (8%). Only three BRCA2 mutations were novel. One BRCA2 mutation recurred in two unrelated probands. Table 2 shows the mutations and data concerning carriers and their families. Table 3 shows correlations between BRCA1/BRCA2 mutations and sex, age at disease diagnosis and familial clustering of breast/ovarian cancer in the total patient population. Table 4 shows the proportions of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in females with site-specific breast and breast-ovarian/ovarian cancer. Table 5 shows the frequency of BRCA1/BRCA2 mutations in males. BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, respectively, accounted for four out of 68 (6%) and one out of 68 (1%) cases diagnosed before age 50 years, and for one out of 68 (1%) and five out of 68 (7%) cases diagnosed after age 50 years. BRCA1 mutations were found in five out of 117 females (4%) and in none of 19 males (0%), and BRCA2 mutations were found in four out of 117 females (3%) and in two out of 19 males (10%). The proportions of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations coincided in site-specific female breast cancers (four out of 102; ie 4% each). BRCA1 and BRCA2 equally contributed to female breast cancers, with no familial clustering in those diagnosed before age 40 years (one out of 28; 4% each), and to female breast cancers, all ages, with familial clustering in one to two relatives (three out of 55; ie 5% each). In the latter subset of cases, BRCA1 mostly accounted for tumours diagnosed before age 40 years (two out of eight; 25%), and BRCA2 for tumours diagnosed after age 50 years (three out of 34; 9%). Regardless of family history, the respective contributions of BRCA1 and BRCA2 to site-specific female breast cancers diagnosed before age 40 years were 8% (three out of 36) and 3% (one out of 36). One BRCA1 mutation was detected among the 15 female probands from breast-ovarian/ovarian cancer families (7%). Among male breast cancers, BRCA2 mutations were identified in one out of five (20%) cases with family history and in one out of 14 (7%) apparently sporadic cases. No BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations were found in female probands with nonfamilial bilateral breast cancer (10 cases) or in those with breast cancer associated with gastrointestinal, pancreatic or uterine cancers, synchronous/metachronous or in first-degree relative(s) (nine cases). These cases were all diagnosed after age 40 years.
Discussion:
Our results indicate a lack of relevant founder effects for BRCA1- and BRCA2-related disease in the sample of patients studied, which is consistent with other Italian studies and with ethnical and historical data. Overall, the contribution of BRCA1 and BRCA2 to breast/ovarian cancer in Italian patients appears to be less significant than in patients from communities with founder mutations. The present study is in agreement with direct estimates on other outbred populations, indicating that 7-10% of all female breast cancers that occur in patients aged under 40 years are due to BRCA1/BRCA2.
We found that BRCA1 and BRCA2 equally contributed to site-specific breast cancers who had one/two breast cancer-affected first-/second-degree relative(s) or who were diagnosed within age 40 years in the absence of family history. This is consistent with recent data that indicated that the respective frequencies of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are comparable in early onset breast cancer. Considering the total population of patients analyzed here, however, BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations were mostly found in cases with disease diagnosis before and after age 50 years, respectively. Moreover, in cases with familial clustering of site-specific breast cancer, BRCA1 mostly accounted for tumours diagnosed before age 40 years, and BRCA2 for tumours diagnosed after age 50 years. This is in agreement with a trend, which has been observed in other populations, for the proportion of cases with BRCA2 mutations to increase, and the proportion with mutations in BRCA1 to decrease, as the age at cancer onset increases.
As in other studies, the frequency of BRCA1/BRCA2 mutations taken together was lower than the estimated frequencies at comparable ages for all susceptibility alleles derived from the Contraceptive and Steroid Hormones (CASH) study. The discrepancy between direct data deriving from BRCA1/BRCA2 mutational analysis and CASH estimates could be due to several factors, including contribution of gene(s) other than BRCA1/BRCA2, differences between populations and relative insensitivity of mutational screening. Only BRCA1 mutations were found in breast/ovarian and site-specific ovarian cancer families. BRCA2, but not BRCA1 mutations were found in the male breast cancers. The overall proportion of males with BRCA2 mutations was high when compared with data from other studies on outbred populations, but was low compared with data from populations with founder effects.
The present results should be regarded as an approximation, because the following types of mutation are predicted to escape detection by the screening strategy used: mutations in noncoding regions; missense mutations within BRCA1 exon 11 and BRCA2 exons 10 and 11; large gene deletions; and mutations within the first and last 180 nucleotides of the amplicons analyzed by PTT.
PMCID: PMC13918  PMID: 11056688
BRCA1; BRCA2; breast; carcinoma; germline mutations; Italy
18.  Lead Exposure: A Contributing Cause of the Current Breast Cancer Epidemic in Nigerian Women 
Biological Trace Element Research  2010;136(2):127-139.
Breast cancer incidence in Nigerian women has significantly increased during the past three decades in parallel with the rapid industrialization of that country. This suggested that the associated widespread contamination of the soil and of the water supplies by lead (Pb) and other industrial metals was a major contributing cause. Because of its many domestic, industrial, and automotive uses, Pb is of particular concern as it has been shown to promote the development of mammary tumors in murine mammary tumor virus-infected female C3H mice at levels as low of 0.5 ppm Pb in the drinking water. Lead belongs to the group of selenium-antagonistic elements that interact with selenium (Se), abolishing its anti-carcinogenic effect. Lead on chronic, low-level exposure in addition also accelerates tumor growth rates. Higher levels of Pb were found in blood and head hair samples of newly diagnosed patients with breast cancer, all with infiltrating ductal carcinoma, the most common form of breast cancer in Nigeria, seen at Obafemi Awolowo University, than in cancer-free controls from the same area. Evidence for interactions between Pb and Se was obtained from blood, hair, and tumor biopsy tissue analyses. Furthermore, the Pb levels in hair samples of the patients were directly correlated with the volumes of their tumors, in accord with the tumor growth-promoting effects of Pb. Conversely, Se levels in hair and blood were inversely correlated with the tumor volumes, consistent with the anti-proliferative effects of Se. Several other elements, e.g., Cd, Hg, Cr, Sn, and As, were detected in the scalp hair of the patients and the controls, although at significantly lower levels than those of Pb. However, correlation calculations revealed them also to interact with Se, suggesting that only a fraction of the Se in organs and tissues is actually present in bioactive forms. In metal-exposed subjects, a state of latent Se deficiency may exist, resulting in depressed immune functions and increased cancer susceptibility. Evidence is presented to show that Pb and other metals also interact with iodine, another vitally important essential trace element believed to protect against breast cancer development. Public health programs aiming at lowering the breast cancer risk of Nigerian women thus will have to include effective measures to protect the population from exposures to Pb and other industrial metals that are presently contaminating the environment and the water supplies.
doi:10.1007/s12011-010-8608-2
PMCID: PMC2883097  PMID: 20195925
Breast cancer; Lead; Cadmium; Tin; Chromium; Arsenic; Selenium; Iodine; Nigeria; Metal pollution
19.  Up-regulation of bone marrow stromal protein 2 (BST2) in breast cancer with bone metastasis 
BMC Cancer  2009;9:102.
Background
Bone metastases are frequent complications of breast cancer. Recent literature implicates multiple chemokines in the formation of bone metastases in breast cancer. However, the molecular mechanism of metastatic bone disease in breast cancer remains unknown. We have recently made the novel observation of the BST2 protein expression in human breast cancer cell lines. The purpose of our present study is to investigate the expression and the role of BST2 in bone metastatic breast cancer.
Methods
cDNA microarray analysis was used to compare the BST2 gene expression between a metastatic to bone human breast cancer cell line (MDA-231BO) and a primary human breast cancer cell line (MDA-231). The BST2 expression in one bone metastatic breast cancer and seven non-bone metastatic breast cancer cell lines were also determined using real-time RT-PCR and Western blot assays. We then employed tissue array to further study the BST2 expression in human breast cancer using array slides containing 20 independent breast cancer tumors that formed metastatic bone lesions, 30 non-metastasis-forming breast cancer tumors, and 8 normal breast tissues. In order to test the feasibility of utilizing BST2 as a serum marker for the presence of bone metastasis in breast cancer, we had measured the BST2 expression levels in human serums by using ELISA on 43 breast cancer patients with bone metastasis, 43 breast cancer patients without bone metastasis, and 14 normal healthy controls. The relationship between cell migration and proliferation and BST2 expression was also studied in a human breast recombinant model system using migration and FACS analysis.
Results
The microarray demonstrated over expression of the BST2 gene in the bone metastatic breast cancer cell line (MDA-231BO) compared to the primary human breast cancer cell line (MDA-231). The expression of the BST2 gene was significantly increased in the bone metastatic breast cancer cell lines and tumor tissues compared to non-bone metastatic breast cancer cell lines and tumor tissues by real time RT-PCR, Western blot and TMA. Furthermore, serum levels of BST2 measured by ELISA were also significantly higher among patients with breast cancer metastatic to bone compared to breast cancer patients without metastatic to bone (P < .0001). Most importantly, the breast cancer cell line that transfected with BST2 demonstrated increased BST2 expressions, which was associated with increased cancer cell migration and cell proliferation.
Conclusion
These results provide novel data indicating the BST2 protein expression is associated with the formation of bone metastases in human breast cancer. We believe that BST2 may be a potential biomarker in breast cancer with bone metastasis.
doi:10.1186/1471-2407-9-102
PMCID: PMC2674058  PMID: 19338666
20.  Synthesis and characterization of surface-enhanced Raman-scattered gold nanoparticles 
In this paper, we report a simple, rapid, and robust method to synthesize surface-enhanced Raman-scattered gold nanoparticles (GNPs) based on green chemistry. Vitis vinifera L. extract was used to synthesize noncytotoxic Raman-active GNPs. These GNPs were characterized by ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy, dynamic light-scattering, Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), X-ray diffraction (XRD), and Raman spectroscopy. The characteristic surface plasmon-resonance band at ~ 528 nm is indicative of spherical particles, and this was confirmed by TEM. The N–H and C–O stretches in FTIR spectroscopy indicated the presence of protein molecules. The predominant XRD plane at (111) and (200) indicated the crystalline nature and purity of GNPs. GNPs were stable in the buffers used for biological studies, and exhibited no cytotoxicity in noncancerous MIO-M1 (Müller glial) and MDA-MB-453 (breast cancer) cell lines. The GNPs exhibited Raman spectral peaks at 570, 788, and 1,102 cm−1. These new GNPs have potential applications in cancer diagnosis, therapy, and ultrasensitive biomarker detection.
Video abstract
doi:10.2147/IJN.S49447
PMCID: PMC3826772  PMID: 24235830
GNPs; SERS; SPR; Vitis vinifera L.; stability
21.  Injectable and Oral Contraceptive Use and Cancers of the Breast, Cervix, Ovary, and Endometrium in Black South African Women: Case–Control Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(3):e1001182.
A case-control study conducted in South Africa provides new estimates of the risk of specific cancers of the female reproductive system associated with use of injectable and oral contraceptives.
Background
Oral contraceptives are known to influence the risk of cancers of the female reproductive system. Evidence regarding the relationship between injectable contraceptives and these cancers is limited, especially in black South Africans, among whom injectable contraceptives are used more commonly than oral contraceptives.
Methods and Findings
We analysed data from a South African hospital-based case–control study of black females aged 18–79 y, comparing self-reported contraceptive use in patients with breast (n = 1,664), cervical (n = 2,182), ovarian (n = 182), and endometrial (n = 182) cancer, with self-reported contraceptive use in 1,492 control patients diagnosed with cancers with no known relationship to hormonal contraceptive use. We adjusted for potential confounding factors, including age, calendar year of diagnosis, education, smoking, alcohol, parity/age at first birth, and number of sexual partners. Among controls, 26% had used injectable and 20% had used oral contraceptives. For current and more recent users versus never users of oral or injectable contraceptives, the odds ratios (ORs) for breast cancer were significantly increased in users of oral and/or injectable contraceptives (OR 1.66, 95% CI 1.28–2.16, p<0.001) and separately among those exclusively using oral (1.57, 1.03–2.40, p = 0.04) and exclusively using injectable (OR 1.83, 1.31–2.55, p<0.001) contraceptives; corresponding ORs for cervical cancer were 1.38 (1.08–1.77, p = 0.01), 1.01 (0.66–1.56, p = 0.96), and 1.58 (1.16–2.15, p = 0.004). There was no significant increase in breast or cervical cancer risk among women ceasing hormonal contraceptive use ≥10 y previously (p = 0.3 and p = 0.9, respectively). For durations of use ≥5 y versus never use, the ORs of ovarian cancer were 0.60 (0.36–0.99, p = 0.04) for oral and/or injectable contraceptive use and 0.07 (0.01–0.49, p = 0.008) for injectable use exclusively; corresponding ORs for endometrial cancer were 0.44 (0.22–0.86, p = 0.02) and 0.36 (0.11–1.26, p = 0.1).
Conclusions
In this study, use of oral and of injectable hormonal contraceptives was associated with a transiently increased risk of breast and cervical cancer and, for long durations of use, with a reduced risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer. The observed effects of injectable and of oral contraceptives on cancer risk in this study did not appear to differ substantially.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Hormonal contraceptives are among the most commonly used medications. Globally, more than 210 million women currently use either hormonal contraceptive pills or injectable contraceptives. Contraceptive pills usually contain manmade versions of the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone (the combined oral contraceptive, or “pill”); most injectable hormonal contraceptives contain only manmade progesterone preparations. Hormonal contraceptives, which prevent pregnancy by disrupting the cyclical changes in estrogen and progesterone levels that prepare the body for pregnancy, have revolutionized birth control since they first became available in the early 1960s. However, it is now known that taking the pill also influences women's risk of developing cancers of the female reproductive system. Current and recent users have an increased risk of developing breast and cervical cancer (the cervix is the structure that connects the womb to the vagina) compared to never users, although this increased risk quickly disappears when women stop taking the pill. By contrast, women who have used the pill have a reduced risk of developing ovarian cancer and cancer of the womb (endometrial cancer) compared to never users that increases with the duration of pill use and persists for many years after use ceases. These effects on reproductive system cancers are thought to occur because these cancers depend on naturally occurring sex hormones for their development and growth.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although the evidence that the pill influences the risk of developing cancers of the female reproductive system is extensive, much less is known about how injectable hormonal contraceptives affect cancer risk. In this hospital-based case–control study (a study that compares the characteristics of people with and without a specific condition), the researchers investigate the relationship between the use of oral and injectable hormonal contraceptives and cancers of the breast, cervix, ovary, and endometrium among black South African women. Injectable contraceptives have been used for longer in South Africa than elsewhere and are used more commonly than oral contraceptives among black South African women.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
As part of the Johannesburg Cancer Case Control Study, which recruits black patients attending Johannesburg public referral hospitals for cancer treatment, the researchers compared hormonal contraceptive use in women with breast, cervical, ovarian, or endometrial cancer with contraceptive use in women diagnosed with other cancers such as lung, colon, and rectal cancers, which are not known to be influenced by hormonal contraceptives. Among the controls, a quarter had used injectable contraceptives and a fifth had used oral contraceptives. After adjusting for other factors that might influence cancer risk such as age, smoking, and number of sexual partners, the odds ratio (OR) of breast cancer among current and recent users of oral and/or injectable contraceptives compared to never users was 1.66. That is, the risk of developing breast cancer among current and recent users of hormonal contraceptives was 1.66 times that among never users. For women using oral contraceptives exclusively or injectable contraceptives exclusively, the ORs of breast cancer were 1.57 and 1.83, respectively. There were also increases in cervical cancer risk among current and recent users of hormonal contraceptives compared to never users, but no significant increase in breast or cervical cancer risk among women who had ceased hormonal contraceptive use more than ten years previously. Finally, the use of hormonal contraceptives for more than five years reduced the risk of both ovarian and endometrial cancer.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, among black women in South Africa, the use of oral or injectable hormonal contraceptives is associated with a transiently increased risk of breast and cervical cancer, and that extended use of these contraceptives is associated with a reduced risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer. Moreover, they suggest that the effects of oral versus injectable contraceptives on cancer risk do not differ substantially, although for endometrial and ovarian cancer the small number of cases exposed to injectable contraceptives limits the accuracy of the risk estimates. Other limitations of this study include the possibility that the findings may be affected by uncontrolled confounding. That is, women who used hormonal contraceptives may have shared other unidentified characteristics that affected their cancer risk. Nevertheless, these findings provide new information about the effects of oral and injectable hormonal contraceptives on cancer risk that should help women make informed decisions about their choice of contraceptive method.
Additional Information
Please access these web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001182.
The US National Cancer Institute provides information on breast cancer (including personal stories from breast cancer survivors), cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer for patients and health professionals, and a fact sheet on oral contraceptives and cancer risk (in English and Spanish)
Cancer Research UK also provides information on breast cancer, cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer and information about the birth control pill and cancer risk
Eyes on the Prize, an online support group for women who have had cancers of the female reproductive system, has personal stories; further personal stories about breast, cervical, and ovarian cancer are provided by the charity Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001182
PMCID: PMC3295825  PMID: 22412354
22.  Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Mediates Intracrine Survival in Human Breast Carcinoma Cells through Internally Expressed VEGFR1/FLT1 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(6):e186.
Background
While vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) expression in breast tumors has been correlated with a poor outcome in the pathogenesis of breast cancer, the expression, localization, and function of VEGF receptors VEGFR1 (also known as FLT1) and VEGFR2 (also known as KDR or FLK1), as well as neuropilin 1 (NRP1), in breast cancer are controversial.
Methods and Findings
We investigated the expression and function of VEGF and VEGF receptors in breast cancer cells. We observed that VEGFR1 expression was abundant, VEGFR2 expression was low, and NRP1 expression was variable. MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 breast cancer cells, transfected with antisense VEGF cDNA or with siVEGF (VEGF-targeted small interfering RNA), showed a significant reduction in VEGF expression and increased apoptosis as compared to the control cells. Additionally, specifically targeted knockdown of VEGFR1 expression by siRNA (siVEGFR1) significantly decreased the survival of breast cancer cells through down-regulation of protein kinase B (AKT) phosphorylation, while targeted knockdown of VEGFR2 or NRP1 expression had no effect on the survival of these cancer cells. Since a VEGFR1-specific ligand, placenta growth factor (PGF), did not, as expected, inhibit the breast cancer cell apoptosis induced by siVEGF, and since VEGFR1 antibody also had no effects on the survival of these cells, we examined VEGFR1 localization. VEGFR1 was predominantly expressed internally in MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 breast cancer cells. Specifically, VEGFR1 was found to be colocalized with lamin A/C and was expressed mainly in the nuclear envelope in breast cancer cell lines and primary breast cancer tumors. Breast cancer cells treated with siVEGFR1 showed significantly decreased VEGFR1 expression levels and a lack of VEGFR1 expression in the nuclear envelope.
Conclusions
This study provides, to our knowledge for the first time, evidence of a unique survival system in breast cancer cells by which VEGF can act as an internal autocrine (intracrine) survival factor through its binding to VEGFR1. These results may lead to an improved strategy for tumor therapy based on the inhibition of angiogenesis.
Shalom Avraham and colleagues' study provides evidence of a survival system in breast cancer cells by which VEGF acts as an internal autocrine survival factor through its binding to VEGFR1.
Editors' Summary
Background.
One woman in eight will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. Most of these women live for many years after their diagnosis and many are cured of their cancer. However, sometimes the cancer grows inexorably and spreads (metastasizes) around the body despite the efforts of oncologists. Characteristics of the tumor known as prognostic factors can indicate whether this spreading is likely to happen. Large tumors that have metastasized have a poorer prognosis than small tumors that are confined to the breast. The expression of specific proteins within the tumor also provides prognostic information. One protein whose expression is associated with a poor prognosis is vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). VEGF stimulates angiogenesis—the growth of new blood vessels. Small tumors get the nutrients needed for their growth from existing blood vessels but large tumors need to organize their own blood supply. They do this, in part, by secreting VEGF. This compound binds to proteins (receptors) on the surface of endothelial cells (the cells lining blood vessels), which then send a signal into the cell instructing it to make new blood vessels. Angiogenesis inhibitors, including molecules that block the activity of VEGF receptors, are being developed for the treatment of cancer.
Why Was This Study Done?
Some breast cancer cell lines (cells isolated from breast cancers and grown in the laboratory) make VEGF and VEGF receptors (VEGFR1, VEGFR2, and neuropilin 1 [NRP1]). But, although some studies have reported an association between VEGFR1 expression in breast tumors and a poor prognosis, other studies have found no expression of VEGFR1 in breast tumors. Consequently, the role of VEGF receptors in breast cancer is unclear. In this study, the researchers analyzed the expression and function of VEGF and its receptors in breast cancer cells to investigate whether and how VEGF helps these cells to survive.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers first examined the expression of VEGF receptors in several human breast cancer cell lines. All of them expressed VEGFR1, some expressed NRP1, but VEGFR2 expression was universally low. They then investigated the function of VEGF and its receptors in two human breast cancer cell lines (MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7). In both cell lines, blocking the expression of VEGF or of VEGFR1 (but not of the other two receptors) reduced cell survival by stimulating a specific process of cell death called apoptosis. Unexpectedly, adding VEGF to the cultures did not reverse the effect of blocking VEGF expression, a result that suggests that VEGF and VEGFR1 do not affect breast cancer cell survival by acting at the cell surface. Accordingly, when the researchers examined where VEGFR1 occurs in the cell, they found it on the membranes around the nucleus of the breast cancer cell lines and not on the cell surface; several primary breast tumors and normal breast tissue had the same localization pattern. Finally, the researchers showed that inhibitors of VEGF action that act at the cell surface did not affect the survival of the breast cancer cell lines.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that VEGF helps breast cancer cells to survive in a unique way: by binding to VEGFR1 inside the cell. In other words, whereas VEGF normally acts as a paracrine growth factor (it is released by one cell and affects another cell), in breast cancer cells it might act as an internal autocrine (intracrine) survival factor, a factor that affects the cells in which it is produced. These findings need confirming in more cell lines and in primary breast cancers but could have important implications for the treatment of breast cancer. Inhibitors of VEGF and VEGFR1 that act inside the cell (small molecule drugs) might block breast cancer growth more effectively than inhibitors that act at the cell surface (for example, proteins that bind to the receptor), because internally acting inhibitors might both kill the tumor directly and have antiangiogenic effects, whereas externally acting inhibitors could only have the second effect.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040186.
US National Cancer Institute information for patients and professionals on breast cancer (in English and Spanish) and on angiogenesis (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus Encyclopedia information for patients on breast cancer (in English and Spanish)
CancerQuest, information from Emory University on cancer biology and on angiogenesis and angiogenesis inhibitors (in several languages)
Wikipedia pages on VEGF (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040186
PMCID: PMC1885450  PMID: 17550303
23.  The structure of people’s hair 
PeerJ  2014;2:e619.
Hair is a filamentous biomaterial consisting mainly of proteins in particular keratin. The structure of human hair is well known: the medulla is a loosely packed, disordered region near the centre of the hair surrounded by the cortex, which contains the major part of the fibre mass, mainly consisting of keratin proteins and structural lipids. The cortex is surrounded by the cuticle, a layer of dead, overlapping cells forming a protective layer around the hair. The corresponding structures have been studied extensively using a variety of different techniques, such as light, electron and atomic force microscopes, and also X-ray diffraction. We were interested in the question how much the molecular hair structure differs from person to person, between male and female hair, hair of different appearances such as colour and waviness. We included hair from parent and child, identical and fraternal twins in the study to see if genetically similar hair would show similar structural features.
The molecular structure of the hair samples was studied using high-resolution X-ray diffraction, which covers length scales from molecules up to the organization of secondary structures. Signals due to the coiled-coil phase of α-helical keratin proteins, intermediate keratin filaments in the cortex and from the lipid layers in the cell membrane complex were observed in the specimen of all individuals, with very small deviations. Despite the relatively small number of individuals (12) included in this study, some conclusions can be drawn. While the general features were observed in all individuals and the corresponding molecular structures were almost identical, additional signals were observed in some specimen and assigned to different types of lipids in the cell membrane complex. Genetics seem to play a role in this composition as identical patterns were observed in hair from father and daughter and identical twins, however, not for fraternal twins. Identification and characterization of these features is an important step towards the detection of abnormalities in the molecular structure of hair as a potential diagnostic tool for certain diseases.
doi:10.7717/peerj.619
PMCID: PMC4201279  PMID: 25332846
Human hair; Molecular structure; X-ray diffraction; Keratin; Intermediate filament; Coiled-coil proteins; Alpha helix; Cell membrane complex
24.  A Genome-Wide Screen for Promoter Methylation in Lung Cancer Identifies Novel Methylation Markers for Multiple Malignancies  
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(12):e486.
Background
Promoter hypermethylation coupled with loss of heterozygosity at the same locus results in loss of gene function in many tumor cells. The “rules” governing which genes are methylated during the pathogenesis of individual cancers, how specific methylation profiles are initially established, or what determines tumor type-specific methylation are unknown. However, DNA methylation markers that are highly specific and sensitive for common tumors would be useful for the early detection of cancer, and those required for the malignant phenotype would identify pathways important as therapeutic targets.
Methods and Findings
In an effort to identify new cancer-specific methylation markers, we employed a high-throughput global expression profiling approach in lung cancer cells. We identified 132 genes that have 5′ CpG islands, are induced from undetectable levels by 5-aza-2′-deoxycytidine in multiple non-small cell lung cancer cell lines, and are expressed in immortalized human bronchial epithelial cells. As expected, these genes were also expressed in normal lung, but often not in companion primary lung cancers. Methylation analysis of a subset (45/132) of these promoter regions in primary lung cancer (n = 20) and adjacent nonmalignant tissue (n = 20) showed that 31 genes had acquired methylation in the tumors, but did not show methylation in normal lung or peripheral blood cells. We studied the eight most frequently and specifically methylated genes from our lung cancer dataset in breast cancer (n = 37), colon cancer (n = 24), and prostate cancer (n = 24) along with counterpart nonmalignant tissues. We found that seven loci were frequently methylated in both breast and lung cancers, with four showing extensive methylation in all four epithelial tumors.
Conclusions
By using a systematic biological screen we identified multiple genes that are methylated with high penetrance in primary lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancers. The cross-tumor methylation pattern we observed for these novel markers suggests that we have identified a partial promoter hypermethylation signature for these common malignancies. These data suggest that while tumors in different tissues vary substantially with respect to gene expression, there may be commonalities in their promoter methylation profiles that represent targets for early detection screening or therapeutic intervention.
John Minna and colleagues report that a group of genes are commonly methylated in primary lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancer.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Tumors or cancers contain cells that have lost many of the control mechanisms that normally regulate their behavior. Unlike normal cells, which only divide to repair damaged tissues, cancer cells divide uncontrollably. They also gain the ability to move round the body and start metastases in secondary locations. These changes in behavior result from alterations in their genetic material. For example, mutations (permanent changes in the sequence of nucleotides in the cell's DNA) in genes known as oncogenes stimulate cells to divide constantly. Mutations in another group of genes—tumor suppressor genes—disable their ability to restrain cell growth. Key tumor suppressor genes are often completely lost in cancer cells. But not all the genetic changes in cancer cells are mutations. Some are “epigenetic” changes—chemical modifications of genes that affect the amount of protein made from them. In cancer cells, methyl groups are often added to CG-rich regions—this is called hypermethylation. These “CpG islands” lie near gene promoters—sequences that control the transcription of DNA into RNA, the template for protein production—and their methylation switches off the promoter. Methylation of the promoter of one copy of a tumor suppressor gene, which often coincides with the loss of the other copy of the gene, is thought to be involved in cancer development.
Why Was This Study Done?
The rules that govern which genes are hypermethylated during the development of different cancer types are not known, but it would be useful to identify any DNA methylation events that occur regularly in common cancers for two reasons. First, specific DNA methylation markers might be useful for the early detection of cancer. Second, identifying these epigenetic changes might reveal cellular pathways that are changed during cancer development and so identify new therapeutic targets. In this study, the researchers have used a systematic biological screen to identify genes that are methylated in many lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancers—all cancers that form in “epithelial” tissues.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used microarray expression profiling to examine gene expression patterns in several lung cancer and normal lung cell lines. In this technique, labeled RNA molecules isolated from cells are applied to a “chip” carrying an array of gene fragments. Here, they stick to the fragment that represents the gene from which they were made, which allows the genes that the cells express to be catalogued. By comparing the expression profiles of lung cancer cells and normal lung cells before and after treatment with a chemical that inhibits DNA methylation, the researchers identified genes that were methylated in the cancer cells—that is, genes that were expressed in normal cells but not in cancer cells unless methylation was inhibited. 132 of these genes contained CpG islands. The researchers examined the promoters of 45 of these genes in lung cancer cells taken straight from patients and found that 31 of the promoters were methylated in tumor tissues but not in adjacent normal tissues. Finally, the researchers looked at promoter methylation of the eight genes most frequently and specifically methylated in the lung cancer samples in breast, colon, and prostate cancers. Seven of the genes were frequently methylated in both lung and breast cancers; four were extensively methylated in all the tumor types.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results identify several new genes that are often methylated in four types of epithelial tumor. The observation that these genes are methylated in multiple independent tumors strongly suggests, but does not prove, that loss of expression of the proteins that they encode helps to convert normal cells into cancer cells. The frequency and diverse patterning of promoter methylation in different tumor types also indicates that methylation is not a random event, although what controls the patterns of methylation is not yet known. The identification of these genes is a step toward building a promoter hypermethylation profile for the early detection of human cancer. Furthermore, although tumors in different tissues vary greatly with respect to gene expression patterns, the similarities seen in this study in promoter methylation profiles might help to identify new therapeutic targets common to several cancer types.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030486.
US National Cancer Institute, information for patients on understanding cancer
CancerQuest, information provided by Emory University about how cancer develops
Cancer Research UK, information for patients on cancer biology
Wikipedia pages on epigenetics (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
The Epigenome Network of Excellence, background information and latest news about epigenetics
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030486
PMCID: PMC1716188  PMID: 17194187
25.  Autoantibodies to aberrantly glycosylated MUC1 in early stage breast cancer are associated with a better prognosis 
Introduction
Detection of serum biomarkers for early diagnosis of breast cancer remains an important goal. Changes in the structure of O-linked glycans occur in all breast cancers resulting in the expression of glycoproteins that are antigenically distinct. Indeed, the serum assay widely used for monitoring disease progression in breast cancer (CA15.3), detects a glycoprotein (MUC1), but elevated levels of the antigen cannot be detected in early stage patients. However, since the immune system acts to amplify the antigenic signal, antibodies can be detected in sera long before the antigen. We have exploited the change in O-glycosylation to measure autoantibody responses to cancer-associated glycoforms of MUC1 in sera from early stage breast cancer patients.
Methods
We used a microarray platform of 60mer MUC1 glycopeptides, to confirm the presence of autoantibodies to cancer associated glycoforms of MUC1 in a proportion of early breast cancer patients (54/198). Five positive sera were selected for detailed definition of the reactive epitopes using on chip glycosylation technology and a panel of glycopeptides based on a single MUC1 tandem repeat carrying specific glycans at specific sites. Based on these results, larger amounts of an extended repertoire of defined MUC1 glycopeptides were synthesised, printed on microarrays, and screened with sera from a large cohort of breast cancer patients (n = 395), patients with benign breast disease (n = 108) and healthy controls (n = 99). All sera were collected in the 1970s and 1980s and complete clinical follow-up of breast cancer patients is available.
Results
The presence and level of autoantibodies was significantly higher in the sera from cancer patients compared with the controls, and a highly significant correlation with age was observed. High levels of a subset of autoantibodies to the core3MUC1 (GlcNAcβ1-3GalNAc-MUC1) and STnMUC1 (NeuAcα2,6GalNAc-MUC1) glycoforms were significantly associated with reduced incidence and increased time to metastasis.
Conclusions
Autoantibodies to specific cancer associated glycoforms of MUC1 are found more frequently and at higher levels in early stage breast cancer patients than in women with benign breast disease or healthy women. Association of strong antibody response with reduced rate and delay in metastases suggests that autoantibodies can affect disease progression.
doi:10.1186/bcr2841
PMCID: PMC3219186  PMID: 21385452

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