According to results recently published in the International Journal of Cancer, gene-expression profiling may help to distinguish between benign and cancerous (malignant) brain tumors.
There are several different types of brain tumors, some of which may be benign (non-cancerous) and some of which may be malignant. In addition, brain tumors are classified according to which type of cell in the brain the tumor has originated from, as well as characteristics of the tumor, such as its aggressiveness and tendency to spread. Because optimal treatment strategies of brain tumors are dictated by the specific diagnosis, it is imperative that diagnosis is accurate. Research continues in order to uncover ways in which to provide more accuracy in brain tumor diagnosis, particularly with types of brain tumors that may be rare and/or difficult to reach a definitive diagnosis.
One type of laboratory technique that is gaining momentum in the clinical setting of cancer diagnoses is gene-expression profiling. This type of technique tests cancer cells for specific “patterns” in their genetic components and/or proteins produced by the genes. The identified patterns tend to be strongly associated with a specific type of cancer and/or specific characteristics of the cancer, such as its aggressiveness or response to therapy.
Researchers from Germany recently conducted a clinical study to evaluate gene-expression profiling in accurately diagnosing brain tumors. This study included 30 different brain tumors, 13 of which were benign, 12 of which were relatively slow-growing cancerous tumors, and 5 of which were relatively aggressive cancerous tumors. The researchers evaluated the expression of 2,600 genes in an attempt to identify patterns specific to each type of tumor. Overall, the researchers identified 64 genes that were expressed differently in the benign tumors compared to the cancerous tumors. There were also specific expression differences revealed between the benign tumors and the more aggressive cancerous tumor type.
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The researchers concluded that although these results represent preliminary findings, further research into gene-expression profiling may help to aid in the accuracy of diagnosis and characteristics of specific brain tumors in the future. This, in turn, will provide information to help guide optimal treatment decisions, with the ultimate intent of improving long-term outcomes for patients with brain tumors. Patients who have been diagnosed with a brain tumor may wish to speak with their physician about their individual risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial further evaluating gene-expression profiling for their disease. Sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include the National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov).
Reference: Wrobel G, Roerig P, Kokocinski F, et al. Microarray-based gene expression profiling of benign, atypical and anaplastic meningiomas identifies novel genes associated with meningioma progression. International Journal of Cancer. 2005; 114: 249 – 256.