Asians at higher risk for HER2 type breast cancer

An aggressive subtype breast cancer that expresses the HER2 protein is more common in Asian women compared to Caucasians

by LYDIA NATHAN / pic by TMR FILE

ASIANS are at higher risk for an aggressive type of breast cancer, HER2, as they are more prone to a mutated TP53 gene and have enriched tumour profiles compared to Caucasians.

The discovery, published in Nature Communications science journal, was made by Cancer Research Malaysia, which currently possesses the largest genetic and genomic database of Asian breast cancers, in collaboration with Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge and Subang Jaya Medical Centre (SJMC).

Cancer Research Malaysia chief scientific officer Prof Datin Paduka Dr Teo Soo Hwang (picture; front, centre) said the team analysed genomic sequences of 560 breast cancer tumour samples and discovered that the aggressive subtype that expresses the HER2 protein is more common in Asian women compared to Caucasians.

“The HER2 subtype of breast cancer is one of the most aggressive, and it is becoming clear that the risk factors may be different from other types of breast cancer,” she said during the media briefing yesterday.

She said the majority of characterised genomes used in previous research were Caucasian women despite Asians making up more than half the world’s population.

“Genomic information enables us to be more precise in diagnosis and choosing the right treatment for the right patient.

“It is critical for us to close the gap in Asian genomic research, otherwise, we may miss the important genetic information that may be rare in Caucasians, but common in Asians,” she said.

Dr Teo added that the research also showed that the TP53 gene — also known as “guardian of the genome” as it protects normal cells from becoming cancer cells — is more commonly altered in Asian breast cancers.

University of Cambridge senior research associate Suet-Feung Chin said the TP53 is frequently mutated in the more aggressive hormone negative breast cancers in Caucasian women.

“In Asian breast cancer patients, we observe an increase in TP53 mutations in hormone receptorpositive cases and is associated with poorer survival,” she said.

Cancer Research Malaysia deputy head of bioinformatics Dr Pan Jia Wern said Asian breast cancers are more likely to have immune cells present.

“This suggests that if we can find some ways to lift the invisibility cloak that cancers have to evade detection by the immune system, we may be able to improve survival for Asian breast cancer patients,” Dr Pan said.

Meanwhile, the team said the genomics map will enable new discoveries on treatment for Asian breast cancers.

“For example, a new clinical trial to test immunotherapy in Asian breast cancer patients has already started in July 2020, led by Cancer Research Malaysia, in partnership with oncologists at Universiti Malaya and National University Hospital Singapore. But more can and should be done.

“Today marks an important milestone in our mission to save lives through research in Asians. We aim to continue to ensure that genomics research is more diverse and inclusive so that all populations can benefit from the advances in technology,” Dr Teo said.