Am J Pathol 2013 Oct 26;183(4):1084-1095. Epub 2013 Jul 26.
Women's Cancers Section, Laboratory of Molecular Pharmacology, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
Despite important progress in adjuvant and neoadjuvant therapies, metastatic disease often develops in breast cancer patients and remains the leading cause of their deaths. For patients with established metastatic disease, therapy is palliative, with few breaks and with mounting adverse effects. Many have hypothesized that a personalized or precision approach (the terms are used interchangeably) to cancer therapy, in which treatment is based on the individual characteristics of each patient, will provide better outcomes. Here, we discuss the molecular basis of breast cancer metastasis and the challenges in personalization of treatment. The instability of metastatic tumors remains a leading obstacle to personalization, because information from a patient's primary tumor may not accurately reflect the metastasis, and one metastasis may vary from another. Furthermore, the variable presence of tumor subpopulations, such as stem cells and dormant cells, may increase the complexity of the targeted treatments needed. Although molecular signatures and circulating biomarkers have been identified in breast cancer, there is lack of validated predictive molecular markers to optimize treatment choices for either prevention or treatment of metastatic disease. Finally, to maximize the information that can be obtained, increased attention to clinical trial design in the metastasis preventive setting is needed.