In new research, academics at the University of Manchester have explained exactly why having dense breast tissue increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
The research team was working in conjunction with teams in the USA and Cyprus on the research, and was partially funded by breast cancer charities in the UK.
Professor Michael Lisanti, from from the UK research team said of the research findings:
“We know that high breast density can greatly increase a woman’s breast cancer risk as well as other factors such as aging, family history and presence of mutations in genes such as BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. ”
“What no one has fully appreciated before are the underpinning mechanisms at play” Lisanti continues, “Using a bioinformatics approach, we have identified the relevant signaling pathways that make dense breast tissue more favorable for tumor formation.”
The cells from high density breast tissue, called “fibroblasts” create a molecular signature. Scientists discovered that a cell communication network called JNK1 displayed more activity in fibroblasts from high density breast tissue than in lower density breast tissue.
The cells in the fibroblasts are instructed by this communication network to release chemicals that can cause inflammation. That inflammation can increase the likelihood of tumors forming.
While that all sounds quite complex, what does it mean for the treatment of breast cancer?
Well currently, cancer treatment will focus on the cancer cells themselves – the tumors in the breasts for example. But by understanding the role that the fibrotic cells play, researchers may be able to develop treatments that prevent the cancers appearing in the first place.
If a drug could be developed that blocks the JNK1 network from communicating and causing the inflammation, then tumors would be less likely to occur.
This new research is backed by another recent finding that the molecular signature of the fibroblasts from high density breast tissue matches the signature of fibroblasts from breast tumors.
We might be able to reach the point where women with high density breast tissue could identify that issue and take either a drug to reduce the breast cancer risk, or simply modify their diet or lifestyle.
Professor Jones from the research project: “This analysis of breast density provides a new framework for additional experimental exploration in breast cancer research. This has important clinical and translational implications for stratified medicine and breast cancer prevention.”