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Breakthrough Gene Discovery May Predict BCa Bone Metastasis

As if a diagnosis of breast cancer (BCa) wasn’t hard enough, learning that the disease had spread to the bone (BCa bone mets) is especially scary. About 15-20% of BCa patients will have bone mets, which have to occur in order to be identified. By that time, there are many effective approaches for lesion control and symptom management – but cure is no longer possible.

New gene discovery may identify those at risk

It is theorized that the drugs used to control bone mets might also be used to prevent them. However, there are two problems with this:

  1. The drug protocols are very expensive and can have unpleasant side effects so giving them to every BCa patient is not feasible.
  2. To date, there has not been a way to identify those women who are in the 15-20% most likely to develop bone mets.

Now, the discovery of a promising biomarker offers hope for predicting which BCa patients are at high risk for bone mets. In a paper published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Pavlovich et al. (2016) reported that an alteration of a gene called MAF is associated with 14 times greater probability of bone mets.1

According to an article in Medical News Today, “The results indicate that the gene MAF triggers a set of functions in the cell that allow metastasis to take place.”2 In other words, the MAF alteration acts as a kind of gateway permitting tumor cells to spread to bone, a preferred site for BCa metastasis.

Why is this important?

To return to problem #1 above, trying to implement a universal prevention program for all BCa patients is neither practical nor desirable. However, it is feasible to screen for the MAF alteration, and to design clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of drug protocols to prevent bone mets among women identified with that biomarker.

Local treatment for bone mets

Although BCa bone mets are not curable, they can be locally controlled and pain managed using MRI-guided Focused Ultrasound (MRgFUS). MRgFUS is a noninvasive outpatient treatment that targets and destroys the tumor and its nerves by directing ultrasound “beams” at the bone lesion. The beams pass harmlessly through skin and other tissues, but they generate lethal heat when they converge at the target. MRI makes it possible to identify the lesion, plan and guide treatment, monitor tissue changes instantly during treatment, and confirm the effect at the end of the procedure. This ensures that the ablation is complete yet has not damaged surrounding healthy structures.

To learn more about MRgFUS as a treatment for metastatic cancer to the bone, visit our website or contact us for a consultation.

1 Pavlovic M, Arnal-Estapé A, Rojo F, Bellmunt A et al. Enhanced MAF oncogene expression and breast cancer bone metastasis. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2015 Sep 15;107(12):djv25

Bone mets