Breast cancer cell shapes to help determine and select treatment?

It was recently discovered that breast cancer cell shapes can be associated with genes that are turned on and off. These shapes  and genes were mapped out and connected to real disease outcomes. This new discovery can help in finding and determining different paths and treatments a patient should take.


More than a million images of  consisting of over 300,000 breast cancer cells were examined for their cell shapes. This was coupled with data for over 28,000 different types of genes. The connection that was found was that the changes in the shape of the cells are also changes in gene activity. Those changes in shape can be cause strain and squeezing against the tumor.

Another discovery involved with these the breast cancer cell shapes was that certain vital points within these maps of cells acted as a router for moving information which also contribute to the development of many other genes. To be precise, a protein by the name of NF-KappaB is at the head of the gene shaping network. This protein can create the spread and increase in cancer cells. Using this knowledge can help grade tumors and can help forecast a patient’s chance of survival.


These findings suggest that because NF-kappaB is rarely faulty in solid tumours, the surrounding mechanical forces are playing a large role in disease progression by switching the gene on.

Dr Chris Bakal, team leader in dynamic cell systems at the Institute of Cancer Research, said: “Our study reveals an exciting link between the forces that act on cancer cells and the development of the disease.

“We used ‘big data’ approaches to carry out a complex analysis that would once have taken decades, in a matter of months.

“The maps we’ve created of cell shapes and their effects on gene activity provide important pointers to new forms of cancer treatment, and ways of making existing therapies more effective.”

Professor Karen Vousden, Cancer Research UK’s chief scientist, said: “Understanding the links between how a breast cancer looks and acts, alongside its genetic makeup, will help researchers develop a more detailed picture of the disease.

“The insights and approaches used in this research could one day lead to us being able to tell from appearance, how aggressive someone’s cancer is and how likely to spread, helping doctors decide the best course of treatment.”