Breast cancer spread—especially of estrogen-receptor-negative, including triple negative—can be detected through a urine test. 

This is according to research published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences February 23.   The urine test can detect tumors that are about to metastasize because they go through a process also seen in the development of human embryos, called epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT).  Phew!   A protein called lopcalin 2 (lcn2)  triggers the EMT in breast cancer and can be detected in urine. So a simple urine test for lcn2 could potentially predict the spread of cancer.  Women whose cancer has spread have especially high levels of lcn2.

“Lcn2 is among the genes most highly associated with estrogen receptor-negative breast tumors,” researchers Marsha Moses, Jiang Yang and colleagues at Children’s wrote.

Lipocalin 2 has been licensed to Predictive Biosciences,  in Lexington, Massachusetts for development of clinical use, which means the test may eventually be available for consumer use, although the process from laboratory tests to doctors’ use can be slow and cumbersome.

Jiang Yang, Diane R. Bielenberg, Scott J. Rodig, Robert Doiron, Matthew C. Clifton, Andrew L. Kung, Roland K. Strong, David Zurakowski, and Marsha A. Moses. Lipocalin 2 promotes breast cancer progression. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0810617106

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