Breast Cancer Prognosis Identified by a Single Protein



Could discovering the prognosis of sufferers of breast cancer be as simple as identifying their levels of a protein? Latest research from a team headed by Katri Selander at the UAB Division of Haematology & Oncology suggests that this may well be the case.

Published in the journal Breast Cancer Research & Treatment, the study showed definitively that an absence of Toll-Like Receptor Protein 9 (TLR9) predicts a poor prognosis in sufferers of triple-negative breast cancer. This is the first study to have these conclusive results in over 10 years of research into protein indicators.

Triple-negative breast cancer (so-called because these cancers do not express three of the genes usually expressed by breast cancer) is a particularly aggressive subtype of breast cancer that is well known for being non-responsive to many conventional treatments and highly likely to recur in patients who have reached remission. Oncologists have long wondered why some people respond well to treatment and others do not and this study determined to find an answer to that question.

Held in Finland, the research used tumour samples from 200 patients. Of these, 100 had triple-negative breast cancer and the others had ER+, another breast cancer sub-type. Both of the sample sets were studied for TLR9 expression and the death rates of the sufferers were noted. Only in the sufferers of triple-negative breast cancer was there a direct correlation between TLR9 and prognosis significance. And it was this simple: high levels of TLR9 meant sufferers had a good prognosis; low levels of TLR9 meant sufferers had a poor prognosis.

This research has the potential to help 10% of breast cancer patients and will lead to a whole new path of research. It is hoped that now we know where to look for a cure, one can be developed. Till then, researchers are looking into a test that could be developed that would mean patients suffering from triple-negative breast cancer can have their treatment options tailored to their levels of TLR9. Currently, as it is such an aggressive cancer, treatment options tend to verge on the intensive for all patients. Individuals with high levels of TLR9 could be given the option of a stepped treatment programme, whereby their condition is analysed and they are given the minimum treatment needed to reach remission. TLR9 therapy could also be given during remission-phase to try and stave off the disease recurring.

Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent forms of cancer in the UK, with 49’961 diagnoses in 2010 and 11’633 deaths.

To read more about this research, click here:

Image of breast cancer cell is provided courtesy of


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