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Published: 2023-10-02

Blood test can detect risk of metastatic breast cancer

NEWS High levels of the substance collagen IV in the blood may be an indicator of metastatic breast cancer. This is the finding of a new doctoral thesis at Umeå University. High levels of the substance around the tumour also imply a poorer prognosis. The levels of collagen IV can be easily measured with a blood test.

Text: Ola Nilsson

“The good news is that the discovery may mean that, in the future, it will be easier to determine which patients are at greater risk of breast cancer recurrence and should be monitored at more frequent intervals by measuring the levels of the substance in the blood,” says Malin Jansson, doctoral student at Umeå University.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, as well as the most common cause of cancer-related death in women. Breast cancer can be cured with surgery. However, the mortality rate is nonetheless high because some tumours have already developed daughter tumours, metastases, by the time they are detected, and some patients will suffer recurrence despite undergoing treatment.

Historically, breast cancer research has focused on the cancer cell, but a growing number of studies show that the so-called supportive breast tissue is also actively involved in breast cancer development. In her doctoral thesis, Malin Jansson and her research group at the Department of Surgical and Perioperative Sciences at Umeå University, studied the substance collagen IV. Their research shows that it can provide important information for breast cancer diagnosis.

Collagen is a fibre protein that is naturally present in different variants in the different tissues of the body. The fourth variant of the protein, collagen IV (4), is normally only found around the milk ducts in healthy breasts. But in breast cancer, it is also found in the supportive breast tissue.

The doctoral thesis shows that patients who have tumours with high levels of collagen IV in the supportive tissue are at greater risk of developing metastatic disease and have a poorer survival prognosis than patients with low levels of collagen IV. Collagen IV is also present in the blood.

High levels of collagen IV in the blood of breast cancer patients may indicate the presence of metastatic breast cancer.

“High levels of collagen IV in the blood of breast cancer patients may indicate the presence of metastatic breast cancer. This opens up the possibility of a simple blood test becoming an important future resource for treatment selection,” says Malin Jansson.

There are also studies showing that collagen IV may also be a driver of cancer development and not just a marker. However, since the substance is normally present in the body and necessary in other processes, it is currently difficult to envisage a treatment that suppresses the substance.

The doctoral thesis is based on studies of tumour tissue from 1,395 women with breast cancer. An antibody targeting collagen IV was used to stain the tumour tissue, and the collagen IV staining was then graded on a three-point scale. Collagen IV levels were measured in the blood of three groups: healthy control patients who underwent surgery for non-malignant conditions, patients with breast cancer in the breast only, and breast cancer patients with bone and liver metastases.

Malin Jansson works as a senior consultant in breast cancer surgery at the University Hospital of Umeå.


Malin Jansson