The diagnoses of breast cancer are linked, but so are the therapies for this tumour, the most common among women, being one of those with the highest cure rates today. In the case of those who are discovered at a very early stage – especially thanks to early diagnosis programs that cover the population aged 50 and over – the cure rates already exceed 90 percent, figures that are not negligible in the oncological field. The doctor of the Health Research Institute of Santiago de Compostela (Idis), Clotilde Costa, knows this well, assuring that “when you are diagnosed with the disease at a very early stage, the chances of a cure are 99 percent, very high “. But the statistics also indicate that out of all breast cancers diagnosed, and almost regardless of the stage at which they are detected, 30 percent will eventually spread to other organs in the body in the form of metastasesand that’s where Costa and his team put their eye, and also the bullet.
This group has succeeded in identifying for the first time a biomarker in red blood cells in the context of cancer that could turn these cells into telltale signs of what’s to come. Its discoverer points out that until now the functions of these erythrocytes were simple carriers of oxygen and carbon dioxide, but “We have seen that the red blood cells of breast cancer patients have a different protein composition and this can be a marker of disease, of the presence of metastases”. In other words, they can act as harbingers of what’s to come and help doctors move forward with treatment. “It would be a tool to diagnose those patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer but have not yet developed metastases, and to be able to monitor them through a blood test, which can be done often and regularly. invasive and monitor these patients so that when this marker rises, they will be tested due to the risk that the disease may progress», explains Costa in a conversation with ABC. “The idea – he continues – is to try to anticipate this diagnosis of metastatic disease in order to be able to treat it sooner and that the management of these patients is changed as soon as possible, because sometimes when the metastasis is detected, everything is already more complex”.
The importance of the find, which was published and explained in detail in the magazine Molecular and cellular proteomics, affects all patient forks, beyond the stage where the tumor has been driven out. “The reality is that this risk of metastasis includes all diagnoses because it is known that there are cells that escape the primary tumor at very early stages, who fall asleep for years, reactivate after a while for anything and are capable of forming metastases. «For now we have no tools to know who they will be, there are some risk factors, but nothing more. Three out of ten are said to develop metastases over time, although this time too it is variable. There are patients who evolve very well with treatment and we are talking about years or decades in which they do not evolve into metastases, and other patients who do not know why they do not respond to treatment and the disease progresses faster”, explains Costas to contextualize the importance that we have an informant traveling in our blood.
Furthermore, the discovery of the information provided by red blood cells about breast cancer opens the door for other cancers to follow a parallel path. “We don’t have conclusive data, but there are some preliminary results that suggest this is something that has nothing to do with breast cancer cells, but with cancer cells in a more global way, so it should be studied.” . For now, Costa and his team are focused on the next step of their discovery, namely embark on a clinical trial before we can talk about a biomarker for implantation on a daily basis. Another in a race against time that was triggered decades ago and offers news of hope. “There is a lot of progress and everything has changed dramatically. Before in breast cancer there were no targeted therapies and it was chemotherapy for everyone, and some responded better and some responded worse. Nowadays, depending on the tumor that is diagnosed, there are targeted therapies with very low levels of toxicity, which has radically changed the life expectancy of patients and also their quality of life». Costas does not hide that the leap from laboratory to consultation is tiring, and it could take him a decade for practical application to arrive, but in the fight to save lives, no effort is in vain.