A recent study identified a specific gene that's responsible for controlling the activated leukocyte cell adhesion molecule ( ALCAM ), which plays a role in helping cells stay clumped together. The gene is less active in aggressive tumors than in normal breast tissue or tumors that don't result in a spreading of the disease. Researchers speculate less activity on the part of ALCAM allows tumor cells to more easily separate and migrate to other areas of the body, causing cancer to spread.
Researchers believe they have found an "early warning system" for aggressive breast cancers that will allow them to treat more serious tumors with stronger medicines earlier on in the disease process.The gene can be identified using a test that measures its level of activity in tissue. If the gene is found to be less active in tumor tissue, then the woman can undergo chemotherapy earlier in the course of her disease and possibly avoid progression.
Researchers conducted the study by comparing ALCAM activity in frozen samples of 120 tumors and in 32 samples of normal breast tissue. Women who had died of breast cancer had tumors with notably lower levels of ALCAM than those who did not. Lower levels were also seen in tumors from patients whose cancer spread or recurred.
Researchers say their data clearly suggest that decreased ALCAM expression in the primary tumor is of clinical significance in breast cancer and that reduced expression indicates a more aggressive phenotype and poor prognosis.