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Researchers Find Link Between Protein In Breast Cancer And Metastasis


Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the U.S., after skin cancer. As of January 2018, there are more than 3.1 million women with a history of breast cancer in the U.S., according to BREASTCANCER.ORG.

The most aggressive type of breast cancer is HER2-positive breast cancer as it has the potential to grow and spread more rapidly than other types. If the breast cancer tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), it is HER2-positive breast cancer. About 20% of breast cancers are HER2-positive breast cancer.

Since 90 percent of cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, blocking metastasis will go a long way in saving the lives of cancer patients.

A study conducted on mice by researchers of the University of Montreal, led by Jean-François Côté, have found a link between a certain protein called AXL and metastases in HER2-positive breast cancer.

In HER2-positive breast cancers, cells with high levels of AXL are more likely to detach from tumors to form metastases - i.e., the cells enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system and spread to a different part of the body. The protein AXL, if deactivated could prevent the development of metastases in HER2-positive breast cancer, say the researchers.

This is not the first time that AXL has been associated with cancers. Previous studies have found that is AXL is overexpressed in triple-negative breast cancer. However, this is for the first time that the presence of AXL protein has been examined in HER2-positive breast cancer.

Côté and his team also found that when mice with HER2-positive tumors were administered an experimental AXL-inhibiting drug therapy, the metastases were less prone to develop.

The research findings are published in the journal Cell Reports.

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