Scientists discover a potential new marker to personalized therapy for breast cancer

A new study from the University of Southampton has discovered that ‘crown-like structures’ surrounding breast tumours in overweight and obese patients could hinder their response to therapy.

The findings of this study could potentially be used to improve personalised treatment for patients with HER2 positive overexpressed breast cancer.

Adipose tissue, or body fat, is an important component of the healthy human breast and yet high body mass index (BMI) is associated with increased risk of developing breast cancer. Overweight patients also have worse survival rates than patients with healthy body weight.

In patients with a high BMI, increased body fat surrounding the breast can cause inflammatory immune cells, called macrophages, to gather in the breast’s fat tissue. These macrophages can then form what are called ‘crown-like structures’ by surrounding these fat cells (see picture below). This creates an inflammatory environment in the breast which can lead to the onset and growth of tumours.

How these crown-like structures go on to affect breast cancer progression and respond to therapy is largely unknown.

The research team, led by Professors Stephen Beers, Ramsey Cutress and Dr Charles Birts, assessed samples from a group of HER2+ breast cancer patients to investigate the link between high BMI and the formation of crown-like structures, and the subsequent effect of these on how patients responded to therapy with a drug called trastuzumab (Herceptin®).

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