Breast Cancer Cells Accumulate Epigenetic Changes Over Time

Researchers have found that healthy tissue samples taken from women with breast cancer are already ‘marked’ as being susceptible to turning cancerous.

AsianScientist (Mar. 15, 2016) – A recent investigation led by China-based researchers has shown that even normal tissue from breast cancer patients bear the hallmarks of epigenetic changes associated with the disease. This finding was published in Nature Communications.

Breast cancer is the most common female-specific cancer in both developed and developing countries, causing more than half a million deaths in 2011. Detecting molecular alterations in the early stages of breast cancer development is critical for developing effective cancer prevention and early detection strategies.

To identify the genetic changes associated with breast cancer, researchers from the CAS-MPG Partner Institute for Computational Biology analyzed a total of almost 700 breast tissue samples. These included samples from women without cancer, normal breast and cancer tissue from women with breast cancer, as well as an independent set of non-invasive and invasive breast cancer samples.

Previous research indicated that certain key risk factors cause epigenetic changes that slightly alter the genetic program inherent in breast cells. These alterations are ‘memorized’ by the cells over several decades, even before overt symptoms begin to show.

By adopting a statistical approach known as field defects, the research team led by Professor Andrew Teschendorff demonstrated that normal tissue from a woman with greater risk of breast cancer is characterized by tens to thousands of epigenetic alterations.

Importantly, a large fraction of these epigenetic alterations were enriched in the corresponding breast cancer tissue of the same patient, supporting the view of the scientists that these alterations are marking normal cells which are susceptible to breast cancer development.

“These new data show how epigenetic alterations, if detected early enough, could be used to identify women at higher risk of developing breast cancer,” said Teschendorff.

“Since epigenetic alterations are reversible; it offers the potential to design preventive strategies. Our work further highlights the importance of inter-disciplinary work, combining clinical, biological and statistical expertise to make these findings possible.”

The article can be found at: Teschendorff et al. (2016) DNA Methylation Outliers in Normal Breast Tissue Identify Field Defects that are Enriched in Cancer.


Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences; Photo: Ed Uthman/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

Related Stories from Asian Scientist