A study has indicated that abnormalities in malignant stem cells may indicate the earliest mutations in breast cancers.

Mutations that are found in stem cells could be causing some breast cancers to develop and may be the reason the disease recurs. These abnormal cells are likely controlling cell functions in the tumour and, given they are not targeted by chemotherapy and radiation, they enable the disease to recur.

"By studying normal and malignant cells that were collected from breast tissues removed during surgery, we were able to look at what is occurring in the body,” said SuEllen J. Pommier, Ph.D., the lead author of the study and associate research professor in the division of surgical oncology at the Oregon Health and Science University Knight Cancer Institute.

Working with samples taken directly from surgeries made the findings in this study possible, Pommier said, because the biology of breast stem cells could be compared with their malignant counterparts in a way that hadn’t been done before.

"This study provided us with new insights into breast cancer stem cells and possibly into the earliest mutations. That information is crucial for developing treatments,” added Pommier.

The study has been published online in the Annals of Surgical Oncology.

Keywords: stem cells

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