Breast cancer and AXL protein linked: Expert explains different cancer stages

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New Delhi : Breast cancer is increasing at alarming rate and health experts are trying their best to find possible treatment to get rid of this fatal illness. A ray of hope came into the lives of many people when researchers found that a kind of protein, once deactivated, could prevent the spread of an insistent type of breast cancer to other sites in the body, a process known as metastasis.

Researchers in Canada have conducted a study and found that a protein, AXL, influences the occurrence of metastasis in HER2-positive cancer, an aggressive type that accounts for 20 per cent of breast cancers. The study and its findings are published in the journal ‘Cell Reports’.

In HER2-positive breast cancers, cells with high levels of AXL are more likely to detach from tumours to form metastases.

The study was conducted on mice and with samples of tumour cells taken from cancer patients in Montreal, Canada.

In women with HER2-positive cancer, it was found that the less AXL is present, the better the survival rate.

Earlier, researchers had connected the AXL protein to another type of cancer, triple negative breast cancer, but its role in in HER2-positive cancer was not known.

“Based on this discovery, a treatment targeting AXL could reduce the risk of metastasis,” said one of the researchers Jean-Francois Cote, Professor at Universite de Montreal in Canada.

Dr Vedant Kabra, Director, Department of Surgical Oncology, Fortis La Femme and Fortis Memorial Research Institute explain the various stages and treatment for breast cancer.

Stage I & II (Early cancer): In early stages of cancer, surgery is the base of treatment. In these stages, the cancer is restricted to the breast and removal of the tumour reduces chances of metastasis and promises a better quality of life. However, a decision of treatment is taken by the oncologist after reading the final biopsy reports before undergoing the surgery. 

Stage III (Locally advanced): In this stage, the cancer can be spread to the secondary locations like lungs, liver or bones. The treatment starts with chemotherapy done first to kill the cancer cells and shrink the growth, followed by surgery and radiation.

Stage IV (Distant organ spread): The 4th stage of breast cancer requires more planning for treatment as the cancer spread far and wide in the body and just removing it from the place of origin won’t help. In this stage, the cancer is usually treated either with chemotherapy or hormone therapy or both. Therapies like surgery for an ulcerated mass in the breast, radiation for pain relief; pain medications, fluid removal from tumours, etc. are considered in different situations.