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  • Breast Cancer Research Foundation

New Research Sheds Light on Metastatic Breast Cancer

Metastatic breast cancer (MBC), also known as stage 4 breast cancer, is the most urgent challenge in breast cancer research today. MBC—when cancer cells leave the breast and travel to other areas of the body—causes nearly all breast cancer deaths and, devastatingly, remains incurable. Today, an estimated 168,000 American women are living with MBC.

These alarming facts are why the Breast Cancer Research Foundation has made MBC a priority—and dedicates about 40 percent of its grant portfolio to MBC. BCRF is also spearheading the largest global effort to study this form of the disease, known as the AURORA Project, made possible by BCRF’s Evelyn H. Lauder Founder’s Fund for Metastatic Breast Cancer. The European arm of AURORA (AURORA EU) recently published its first report on the molecular changes driving this disease. The American arm, AURORA U.S., is working in collaboration to further validate these findings.

A wholly unique aspect of the AURORA projects are their robust collections of matched primary and metastatic tumors, meaning they’re from the same patient. For its first report, published in the journal Cancer Discovery, AURORA EU conducted multi-platform molecular analyses on these matched tumors. Comparing the breast and metastatic samples, researchers discovered significant differences in their immune microenvironment, molecular subtype, and genomic landscape. This is particularly meaningful, the researchers noted, because there are already targeted therapies for about half of patients whose metastases showed unique molecular changes.

The AURORA EU investigators also reported that some patients whose tumor had high mutational burden (meaning they had acquired a lot of gene mutations) experienced worse outcomes. This suggests that, in some cases, high numbers of gene mutations may be a biomarker for MBC in women with an otherwise low-risk breast cancer.

While these findings are being studied further, they represent the first of what are expected to be many game-changing discoveries that could change the course of MBC research and care.

“These projects represent the power of collaboration to shift—and change—outcomes for patients,” said BCRF’s Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Dorraya El-Ashry.

Learn more about BCRF’s Founder’s Fund.

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