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Discovery of breast tumour gene may help clinicians in diagnosis

Singapore scientists have discovered a genetic cause of common breast tumours in women. This will potentially make it easier for clinicians to distinguish benign breast tumours from cancerous ones.

SINGAPORE: Singapore scientists have discovered a genetic cause of common breast tumours in women. This will potentially make it easier for clinicians to distinguish benign breast tumours from cancerous ones.

Fibroadenomas are the most common benign breast tumours in women. In Singapore, there are approximately 3,000 cases a year. These patients may have to undergo surgery.

Dr Benita Tan, senior consultant at Department of General Surgery at Singapore General Hospital, said: "We choose surgery for patients when fibroadenomas are large or when they are symptomatic, meaning patients feel some discomfort.

“Sometimes these fibroadenomas are actually not very large, they are small. But patients are worried and of course there is the fear of cancer, the fear of dangerous tumours and they request for it to be removed."

But clinicians do face challenges in distinguishing fibroadenomas from breast cancer.

Even when a biopsy is done on a patient, where the breast tissue is tested, the amount of tissue obtained on a needle biopsy may not necessarily reflect the entire tumour as the needle samples only a small part of the tumour.

A team of scientists from the National Cancer Centre Singapore, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore and Singapore General Hospital may have found a way to tackle this.

They discovered that a gene called MED12 is present in nearly 60 per cent of fibroadenomas. They said that measuring this gene in breast lumps may improve diagnosis.

Professor Tan Puay Hoon, head and senior consultant of Department of Pathology at Singapore General Hospital, said: “So with this discovery, potentially it can be used as an adjunctive tool to indicate that the patient has a fibroadenomas and therefore does not have breast cancer, so this might alleviate episodes of surgery as well as relieve anxiety.”

Professor Tan added that this finding can also help reduce hospitalisation costs, as surgery can be avoided and no additional steps need to be taken to make a diagnosis.

The research team hopes this diagnostic gene test can be ready in two to three years' time.

In five to 10 years' time, researchers believe they can potentially find a drug that targets the MED12 gene and cause the resolution of benign breast lumps. It is hoped that with this drug, patients will not have to undergo multiple surgeries. 

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