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Australian scientists have identified a genetic 'switch' that indicates whether or not breast cancer is aggressive and likely to spread to other parts of the body. The discover could help provide clearer prognosis for patients with breast cancer and lead to new treatments. The team at QIRM Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the Institute of Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland have identified a particular RNA (ribonucleic acid) that disappears in the case of patients with aggressive breast cancer. QIMR's Dr Nicola Cloonan said, "Essentially, this particular gene fragment, or microRNA, normally acts like an emergency brake in our genetic program, ensuring our cells continue to reproduce normally. But we've identified that this 'emergency brake' fails in invasive, aggressive tumours. Its sudden absence in cancer tests would be a clear marker that a tumour is likely to spread. And we know that primary breast cancer rarely kills; it is those aggressive tumours that spread, or metastasise, which result in poor outcomes. Breast cancer is the most common caner among female Australians and survival largely depends on when the diagnosis happens. If the cancer is limited to the breast, 96% of patients will still be alive five years later. The team of scientists also claim the vital microRNA is missing in cases of aggressive liver, stomach, brain and skin cancers. Dr Cloonan said, "What we've uncovered seems to be a common cellular process which could be a new drug target."

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