Immune and Collagen Basis of Breast Cancer

Investigator: Valerie M. Weaver, PhD
Sponsor: Duke University

Location(s): United States


In this study, we seek to identify which immune and collagen characteristics confer the increased breast cancer risk seen in women with high breast density. To accomplish this goal, we will examine the tissue of women undergoing mastectomy for cancer, and compare the immune and collagen properties around the cancer, in the same breast but distant from the cancer, and in other patients who had breast reduction but did not have cancer. By doing this, we will gain a better understanding how immune and collagen features are associated with development of cancer. We will also evaluate whether different immune and collagen states give rise to different types of cancer, showing again the relationship between properties of the breast tissue and cancer. We will then determine whether mammograms in these women taken before surgery showed a high breast density. Moreover, we will study whether MRI characteristics such as quantitative density measurement and density patterns (these are difficult to discern on mammography) track with these high risk immune and collagen characteristics even more closely than mammographic density does. These MRI patterns will be evaluated on preoperative studies,and many of the MRI measures will be automated.
The overarching goal of this study is to improve risk stratification for individuals based on a better understanding of how the immune system and the structural proteins of the breast act together to determine breast density and increase breast cancer risk. If successful, this project will improve the utility of breast density as a risk factor by identifyingwhich breast density characteristics on mammography or MRI are most closely related to the immune and collagen features found in breasts harboring tumor. Currently, imaging findings will be the surrogate for the changes occurring in the tissue. However, if we identify those immune or collagen properties that are highly predictive of cancer, it would be possible to explore whether this information could be obtained directly from the a breastcore biopsy or from the blood. Ultimately, we seek this information to enable women to make better choices regarding their own breast cancer risk, based on an individualized test. It is hoped that these studies will help determine whether an individual has very low risk or whether chemoprevention is strongly recommended. This increased clarity about the tradeoffs will allow women to make truly informed decisions about their breast health.