A recent discovery by Italian scientist Dr. Pier Francesco Ferrucci, a cancer specialist at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, could help more women survive breast cancer. This news is particularly important for minority women. African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer than women of any other racial and ethnic group, according to the American Cancer Society. Latino women also experience high rates of breast cancer mortality, primarily due to late detection of the disease.

Ferrucci’s discovery will help identify women at risk of suffering a relapse after they have been initially treated for breast cancer. Preliminary research results show that a protein called maspin, which is produced by cells in the breast, is at high levels in the bone marrow of women who typically remain cancer-free for two years, while women with low concentrations of maspin in their bone marrow are more likely to have a recurrence of breast cancer.

Relapses occur in more than half of advanced breast cancer survivors, and until now, doctors have been unable to accurately predict which women will have a recurrence. Currently, the most common prediction method is to check whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, but about 20% of women who have cancer-free nodes still relapse.

Dr. Klaus Hoekman, a professor of medical oncology at the Free University Hospital in Amsterdam, who was not part of the research team, explains that Ferrucci’s breakthrough discovery could result in a more powerful and accurate test for predicting a woman’s risk of having a recurrence of breast cancer.

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“With further evaluation, this test could help doctors identify women who are more at risk of a relapse so that they can be given more intensive treatment,” Ferrucci states.

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