Study identifies breast cancer patients who would benefit from metastasis-specific treatment

The metastasis of a primary breast tumor to bone. Credit: Author: Formas Naturales by Inbiomotion, IRB Barcelona

Physicians currently have no tools to help them detect breast cancer patients who will suffer metastasis, a process that occurs in 15 to 20 percent of cases. In particular, they are unable to identify those patients that may benefit from metastasis-specific treatments such as zoledronic acid.

A study led by Professor Robert E. Coleman at the University of Sheffield, and ICREA researcher Roger Gomis at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine has uncovered MAF amplification as an approach that allows the identification of breast cancer patients who would benefit from the use of in the adjuvant setting (MAF negative) from those that may be harmed by the (MAF positive and non postmenopausal). Their results have been published in Lancet Oncology.


Bone metastasis is the only type of metastasis that can be controlled, though not cured, by drugs. Treatment is only administered once the metastasis has been identified, which is normally too late. Preliminary studies indicate that the same drugs used to treat metastasis could also be used to prevent it, and identifying those patients who would benefit is therefore very important. “This is where the discovery validated by the current study could be of great use to clinicians and would avoid unnecessary treatment of patients who would not benefit or could be harmed by the treatment,” says Prof. Gomis.


About 1 million new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year. Preventive treatments can have unwanted side effects and are expensive, making broad administration of the drugs an unviable option—even less so, considering that 4 percent of patients are likely to be harmed by the treatment. “In order to implement a companion diagnostic, we first need to know which patients may benefit and which ones will not. Our discovery offers a way to distinguish what wasn’t possible before,” confirms Prof Gomis.

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