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Open Access Research article

Trace elements as tumor biomarkers and prognostic factors in breast cancer: a study through energy dispersive x-ray fluorescence

Marina P Silva1*, Danilo F Soave2, Alfredo Ribeiro-Silva2 and Martin E Poletti1

Author Affiliations

1 Departamento de Física, Universidade de São Paulo, FFCLRP, Av. dos Bandeirantes n. 3900, 14040-901, Ribeirão Preto, SP, Brazil

2 Departamento de Patologia, FMRP/USP, Av. dos Bandeirantes n. 3900, 14049-900, Ribeirão Preto, SP, Brazil

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BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:194  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-194

Published: 25 April 2012

Abstract

Background

The application and better understanding of traditional and new breast tumor biomarkers and prognostic factors are increasing due to the fact that they are able to identify individuals at high risk of breast cancer, who may benefit from preventive interventions. Also, biomarkers can make possible for physicians to design an individualized treatment for each patient. Previous studies showed that trace elements (TEs) determined by X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) techniques are found in significantly higher concentrations in neoplastic breast tissues (malignant and benign) when compared with normal tissues. The aim of this work was to evaluate the potential of TEs, determined by the use of the Energy Dispersive X-Ray Fluorescence (EDXRF) technique, as biomarkers and prognostic factors in breast cancer.

Methods

By using EDXRF, we determined Ca, Fe, Cu, and Zn trace elements concentrations in 106 samples of normal and breast cancer tissues. Cut-off values for each TE were determined through Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) analysis from the TEs distributions. These values were used to set the positive or negative expression. This expression was subsequently correlated with clinical prognostic factors through Fisher’s exact test and chi-square test. Kaplan Meier survival curves were also evaluated to assess the effect of the expression of TEs in the overall patient survival.

Results

Concentrations of TEs are higher in neoplastic tissues (malignant and benign) when compared with normal tissues. Results from ROC analysis showed that TEs can be considered a tumor biomarker because, after establishing a cut-off value, it was possible to classify different tissues as normal or neoplastic, as well as different types of cancer.

The expression of TEs was found statistically correlated with age and menstrual status. The survival curves estimated by the Kaplan-Meier method showed that patients with positive expression for Cu presented a poor overall survival (p < 0.001).

Conclusions

This study suggests that TEs expression has a great potential of application as a tumor biomarker, once it was revealed to be an effective tool to distinguish different types of breast tissues and to identify the difference between malignant and benign tumors. The expressions of all TEs were found statistically correlated with well-known prognostic factors for breast cancer. The element copper also showed statistical correlation with overall survival.