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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Cancer Study Raises More Questions Than Eyebrows

    A team of researchers from Stony Brook’s Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology found what they are calling a new lead on potential therapy for patients with breast cancer.

    According to the National Cancer Institute, Long Island witnessed one of the highest rates of breast cancer incidence and mortality in all of New York state over the past decade. Between 2004 and 2009, about 400 women died out of almost 2,050 breast cancer diagnoses.

    The researchers analyzed 1,360 breast tumor tissue samples and measured the presence of Squamous Cell Carcinoma Antigen-1 (SCCA-1). Squamous cells form flat, scale-like layers of tissue found in the skin, the lining of the mouth or the esophagus. SCCA-1 is a protein expressed by cancerous squamous type cells and may facilitate tumor growth, development and survival. The antigen was first discovered in cervical cancer, but was later detected in lung cancer, head and neck cancers, liver cancer, and most recently certain types of breast cancer.

    The finding is the first of its kind to show that elevated expression of SCCA-1 is associated with both high grade or aggressive breast tumors and advanced stage human breast carcinomas. If scientists can better understand the biological function of the antigen, new therapeutic methods can be explored to treat patients suffering from aggressive squamous carcinomas of the breast and possibly other areas of the human body.

    (Graphic: David Morris)

    Even though female breast cancer is the second most deadly carcinoma in the world, lead author Dr. Wei-Xing Zong, is not surprised that this connection was not previously explored, because of the small amount of squamous cells found in breast tissue.

    “It’s known that squamous cell carcinoma is very rare in breast cancer,” said Zong, who is an associate professor of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. “You would think the presence of the antigen would be very, very low. However, we found it’s much higher.”

    While this study may be the first of its kind, Dr. Colette Pameijer from the Stony Brook University Cancer Center does not think it will give provoke any dramatic changes in how patients are treated for breast cancer.

    “The cancers that look bad have this antigen, whereas the cancers that don’t look so bad don’t have it. There may be a small number of people with stage one cancer who are going to have this antigen and then you might treat them more aggressively, but it doesn’t completely rearrange the playing field,” said Pameijer.

    “[Squamous Cell Carcinomas] really act and behave like any other cancer,” said Dr. Brian O’Hea, an assistant professor of surgery at Stony Brook University. He stressed that the treatments for squamous cell carcinomas in the breast do not differ from more prevalent types of SCCs.

    Dr. Zong believes that he and his colleagues may have underestimated the levels of SCCA-1 in the tumor specimens and will soon revisit their experiment to achieve more accurate results.

    “We’re thinking more patients and larger tumor samples,” said Dr. Zong. “Eventually, we’re thinking we should look in the patient blood to see whether the level is high. It’s a more convenient way to diagnose the patient than taking tissue out.”

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