New discovery could improve breast cancer treatment

Photomicrograph of breast cancer cells. Image: Shutterstock

Researchers have shown that BRCA2 genes stop the growth of breast cancer cells.

In Australia 2,567 women and 103 men were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. It is estimated that one in 11 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer before they are 75.

Mutations in the BRCA2 gene are the most common causes behind breast cancer, as they lead to an increased risk of developing the cancer, and they can be hereditary. Researchers at BRIC, University of Copenhagen, have revealed another important function of the BRCA2 gene.

Associate Professor Claus Storgaard Sørensen, Group Leader at BRIC, said in the press release “BRCA2 protects against cancer development. Our new results show that BRCA2 stops the growth of cells with damaged DNA.”

A human body relies on cell renewal through cell division to keep functioning. Each time a cell divides, the machinery in our bodies makes sure that the cell DNA is copied correctly and stops cells dividing if the DNA code is damaged, preventing mutations that can cause cancer.

“BRCA2 functions as a brake in a car – when damage occurs to the DNA, a brake stops the cells in order for the damages to be repaired,” Sørensen said.

The research group exposed cells to radiotherapy in order to damage the DNA. Postdoc Tobias Menzel said in the press release “We saw immediately that cells without BRCA2 behaved differently than other cells.

“They could divide despite the DNA damage.”

The results have not only shown that BRCA2 mutations increase the risk of breast cancer, but have suggested a way to improve breast cancer therapy. “Actually, the results are quite surprising as they also show that cells with BRCA2 mutations are more sensitive towards radiotherapy than cells without such mutations,” Sørensen said.

Patients with the BRCA2 mutations responded better to the radiotherapy, as the treatment causes extensive DNA code damage so the cells cannot survive without repairs. Normal cells will stop dividing to make these repairs, but the BRCA2-mutated cells will divide without fixing the new mutations in the DNA code, causing them to die.

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  1. While it is true that certain genes may allow the spread of cancer more than others, these genes are NOT the CAUSE of cancer. The cause is environmental factors like diet and poisons in air, food and water. Until we start addressing these issues to prevent AND treat cancer, we will not see major progress no matter how much we try to manipulate our genes. This, in addition to foods and herbs that stimulate the immune system is the true cure for cancer !!!

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