Triple-negative breast cancer accounts for about 10 to 15% of all breast cancers.
Triple-negative refers to the fact that the cancer cells test negative for the three other types of breast cancer—those driven by too much estrogen, too much progesterone or too much of a protein called HER2, according to the American Cancer Society.
Triple-negative breast cancer is more common in women under 40 who are Black or who have a specific mutation in a gene called BRCA1.
In a study from the University of Arizona, scientists found a less toxic treatment for this type of breast cancer. They developed a drug compound that appears to stop cancer cell growth in breast cancer.
The drug, which has not yet been tested in humans, has been shown to eliminate tumors in mice, with little to no effect on normal healthy cells, making it potentially nontoxic for patients.
The therapy is based on a newly discovered way that a gene known as epidermal growth factor receptor, or EGFR, leads to cancer.
EGFR is a long-investigated oncogene—a gene that in certain circumstances can transform a cell into a tumor cell.
About half of all cases of triple-negative breast cancer overexpress the EGFR oncogene, according to the National Institutes for Health.
In the study, the researchers devised a compound that blocks EGFR from going to a part of the cell that drives the survival of cancer.
The compound shuts down the functioning of the EGFR protein that acts in cancer cells but not normal cells.
The next step, besides human trials, is to test the drug’s ability to suppress metastasis, which occurs when cancer cells spread to other parts of the body, Schroeder said.
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The study was conducted by Joyce Schroeder et al and published in the journal Cancer Gene Therapy.
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