The National Cancer Institute has awarded Arizona Cancer Center researchers more than $1.7 million for a five-year study into an aggressive form of breast cancer that strikes women after pregnancy.
“Risk of breast cancer increases immediately following pregnancy and breast cancers that occur in the post-partum period are more aggressive, more likely to metastasize and associated with worse patient outcomes,” said Co-Principal Investigator Elena Martínez, MPH, PhD, who is co-director of the Arizona Cancer Center’s Cancer Prevention and Control Program and director of the Cancer Health Disparities Institute. “They also generally affect younger women and may represent a substantial proportion of early onset breast cancer, a phenomenon that disproportionately affects racial and ethnic minority populations.”
The new study, Epigenetic Features of Pregnancy-Associated Breast Cancer in Hispanic Women, will compare breast cancers in Hispanic women in the high-risk post-partum period with those diagnosed outside of this time period to try to define the risk factors, tumor sub-types, and epigenetic characteristics associated with the aggressive post-partum cancer. The hypothesis is that changes within the breast tissue during pregnancy may increase the risk of carcinogenesis of some women and that these changes will be maintained and reflected in tumors arising after pregnancy.
Results of the study may further explain mechanisms that play a role in early onset breast cancer, particularly those related to a recent pregnancy. Demonstrating that post-partum cancers have specific shared gene expression would provide important clues about these tumors and possibly lead to the discovery of novel drug targets as an immediate translational outcome, Martínez said.
Martínez, who is also an epidemiologist and professor in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona, and Bernard W. Futscher, PhD, the Arizona Cancer Center’s Margaret E. and Fenton L. Maynard Chair in Breast Cancer Epigenomics, are the study’s co-principal investigators. The research is funded by the National Cancer Institute through a U01 grant, which is awarded to investigators conducting research into biological or genetic causes and mechanisms of cancer health disparities.
“This transformational clinical research project will help us understand the basic mechanisms underlying the dangerously aggressive form of premenopausal breast cancer affecting the lives of an increasing number of Hispanic women,” said Arizona Cancer Center Director David S. Alberts, MD. “Drs. Martinez and Futscher provide outstanding research capabilities in a variety of fields, including molecular and genetic epidemiology as well as basic and translational epigenomics and genomics.”