Low or no NR2F1 protein in cells that metastasize from primary breast tumors to bone marrow indicates a high risk of lethal cancer recurrence, says study.
The process of forming secondary tumors away from the primary site is called metastasis and is responsible for the vast majority of cancer deaths.
Bone is a common destination for migrating, or metastatic, cells in breast cancer. These cells are also known as disseminated tumor cells.
Scientists already knew that the presence of disseminated tumor cells in bone marrow meant that a more aggressive form of cancer could develop. However, this does not happen in all cases. The reason for this has been something of a mystery.
Now, a collaborative study involving the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, NY, and the University Hospital of Oslo in Norway, has uncovered a potential explanation that scientists could use to more accurately assess the risk that metastatic cancer in the bone will develop in cases of breast cancer.
NR2F1 in disseminated tumor cells
In a paper that now features in the Breast Cancer Research journal, the international team describes how levels of a protein — nuclear receptor subfamily 2 group F member 1 (NR2F1) — in disseminated tumor cells in bone marrow could indicate whether the cells remain dormant or become active.
If the level of the protein is high, the cells remain dormant, if it is low, they become active and more likely to develop into a more lethal, secondary tumor.
The authors note that recent experiments have revealed that NR2F1 “plays a key role in dormancy signaling.” So, they decided to investigate its role in breast cancer that spreads to bone marrow.
Among women in the United States, breast cancer is the most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer deaths.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2015 was the latest year for statistics on breast cancer incidence in the U.S. That year there were diagnoses of female breast cancer and 41,523 deaths to the disease.
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