INTRODUCTION: Patients with clinically and pathologically similar breast tumors often have very different outcomes and treatment responses. Current prognostic markers allocate the majority of breast cancer patients to the high-risk group, yielding high sensitivities in expense of specificities below 20%, leading to considerable overtreatment, especially in lymph node-negative patients. Seventy percent would be cured by surgery and radiotherapy alone in this group. Thus, precise and early indicators of metastasis are highly desirable to reduce overtreatment. Previous prognostic RNA-profiling studies have only focused on the protein-coding part of the genome, however the human genome contains thousands of long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) and this unexplored field possesses large potential for identification of novel prognostic markers.
METHODS: We evaluated lncRNA microarray data from 164 primary breast tumors from adjuvant naïve patients with a mean follow-up of 18 years. Eighty two patients who developed detectable distant metastasis were compared to 82 patients where no metastases were diagnosed. For validation, we determined the prognostic value of the lncRNA profiles by comparing the ability of the profiles to predict metastasis in two additional, previously-published, cohorts.
RESULTS: We showed that lncRNA profiles could distinguish metastatic patients from non-metastatic patients with sensitivities above 90% and specificities of 64-65%. Furthermore; classifications were independent of traditional prognostic markers and time to metastasis.
CONCLUSIONS: To our knowledge, this is the first study investigating the prognostic potential of lncRNA profiles. Our study suggest that lncRNA profiles provide additional prognostic information and may contribute to the identification of early breast cancer patients eligible for adjuvant therapy, as well as early breast cancer patients that could avoid unnecessary systemic adjuvant therapy. This study emphasizes the potential role of lncRNAs in breast cancer prognosis.