Testing breast cancer cells for how closely they resemble stem cells could identify women with the most aggressive disease, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that breast cancers with a similar pattern of gene activity to that of adult stem cells had a high chance of spreading to other parts of the body.

Assessing a breast cancer’s pattern of activity in these stem cell genes has the potential to identify women who might need intensive treatment to prevent their disease recurring or spreading, the researchers said.

Adult stem cells are healthy cells within the body which have not specialised into any particular type, and so retain the ability to keep on dividing and replacing worn out cells in parts of the body such as the gut, skin or breast.

A research team from The Institute of Cancer Research, London, King’s College London and Cardiff University’s European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute identified a set of 323 genes whose activity was turned up to high levels in normal breast stem cells in mice.

The study was published in the journal Breast Cancer Research, and was funded by a range of organisations including the Medical Research Council, The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Cancer Research UK.

MORE INFO: sciencedaily.com