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News Archive - Progress Newsletter Summer 2000 Online

Research Roundup:

U-M scientists find genetic links for deadly type of breast cancer

Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center have identified two genes that may control the development of inflammatory breast cancer -- an aggressive, often lethal, form of the disease.

"Only 6 percent of the 180,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year have inflammatory breast cancer, but they have the least chance of survival because this type of cancer gives no early warning signs and progresses so rapidly," says Sofia D. Merajver, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of internal medicine and director of the Cancer Center's Breast and Ovarian Risk Evaluation Clinic.

Unlike other types of cancer, inflammatory breast cancer is random and non-hereditary, so discovery of these genes will not help predict who is more likely to develop the disease, according to Merajver, who directed the U-M study. The most immediate benefit will be to physicians who must determine the most effective form of cancer treatment in new patients. The presence of both genetic markers in tumors from newly diagnosed women could be an indication for more aggressive treatment.

"Stage-matched inflammatory and non-inflammatory breast cancer cells look the same under a microscope," says Kenneth L. van Golen, Ph.D., a research fellow in the U-M Medical School, and first author on the study. "To understand why the clinical behavior is so different, we need to look for changes at the molecular level. Our goal is to understand how genetic abnormalities change normal breast tissue into a highly aggressive cancer."

The U-M study was supported with funding from the United States Army, the National Institutes of Health and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Researchers from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the National Human Genome Research Institute collaborated in the study.

Contributing writers: Kara Gavin, Health System Public Relations, and Sally Pobojewski, U-M News and Information Services

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