A study seems to have figured out how abnormal BRCA1 genes (BReast CAncer gene 1) lead to breast cancer. When BRCA1 genes are healthy, they fix DNA breaks (protein strands that make up chromosomes and genes). When BRCA1 genes are abnormal, they can't fix DNA breaks, specifically breaks in a gene called PTEN. PTEN genes stop cancer tumors from growing. If a PTEN gene has a DNA break that isn't repaired, cancer cells have nothing to stop them and grow rapidly.
DNA breaks happen all the time as cells in the human body grow and multiply. In most cases, the cells realize a mistake has happened and fix the problem. But if a "fixer" gene such as BRCA1 is abnormal, there is no way for the cells to fix the mistake. As researchers have learned more about the role of specific genes and proteins, they have developed a group of medicines called targeted therapies that tell genes and proteins to do specific things to stop cancer growth. Herceptin, Tykerb, and Avastin are all targeted therapies.
The results of this study may help researchers develop new targeted therapies to repair breaks in the PTEN gene. This could help women diagnosed with what's called triple-negative breast cancer (estrogen-, progesterone-, and HER2-negative). Right now, this type of breast cancer has limited treatment options because current hormonal and targeted therapies don't work.
According to statistics from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), about 15% of all breast cancers are triple negative. Young African American women are more likely than women of other ethnicities/races to be diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer.
Stay tuned to breastcancer.org for the very latest news on research that may lead to new breast cancer treatments.