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According to the results of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, genetic changes in the tissue that surrounds breast cancer cells may influence cancer grade and the likelihood of lymph node metastases.

Researchers are increasingly recognizing that breast cancer is a very diverse disease. Cancers in different women often have very different growth patterns and different responses to treatment, and understanding the basis for this variability may improve our ability to individualize cancer treatment.

A factor that is likely to contribute to the behavior of breast cancer is the tumor microenvironment. The microenvironment of a cancer refers to the setting in which a cancer grows. Cancer does not develop in isolation; cancer cells interact with surrounding cells and proteins, and these interactions play an important role in cancer development and progression. Altering the microenvironment may offer an additional approach to cancer prevention as well as treatment.

To explore the impact of genetic alterations in tissue that surrounds breast cancer cells (stroma), researchers evaluated tissue taken from 220 women with breast cancer. All of the breast cancers were sporadic, meaning that they were not the result of a familial cancer syndrome.

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Genetic changes in the stroma were found to be linked with tumor grade and likelihood of lymph node metastasis.

The researchers conclude that some of the clinical diversity of breast cancers appears to be explained by genetic changes in the tissue that surrounds the breast cancer. This knowledge may eventually lead to an improved ability to predict cancer behavior and to select the optimal treatment.

Reference: Fukino K, Shen L, Patocs A, Mutter GL, Eng C. Genomic instability within tumor stroma and clinicopathological characteristics of sporadic primary invasive breast carcinoma. JAMA. 2007;297:2103-2111.