Eriko Katsuta, MD, PhD, of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

Roswell Park Researchers Discover Potential Biomarker for Aggressive Breast Cancer

  • Breast cancer patients with high levels of H2AX often have worse outcomes
  • Tumors with high levels of the protein are sensitive to radiation therapy
  • H2AX could identify high-risk patients who are good candidates for radiation

CHICAGO, Ill. — Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers have identified the histone H2AX as a potential biomarker for breast cancer — a determination that could also help predict how a patient will respond to radiation therapy. The research team is presenting the findings of their research Tuesday, April 17, at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2018, which continues through April 18 in Chicago, Illinois.

Eriko Katsuta, MD, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Roswell Park Department of Breast Surgery, is the first author and Kazuaki Takabe, MD, PhD, FACS, Clinical Chief of Breast Surgery, Alfiero Foundation Endowed Chair in Breast Oncology and Professor of Oncology, is the senior author of “H2AX is a novel prognostic marker of breast cancer” (abstract 3216), to be presented during the poster session “Radiation Studies Using in Vitro and Computational Models” from 8 a.m. to noon CDT on Tuesday, April 17.

Eriko Katsuta, MD, PhD, above, and Kazuaki Takabe, MD, PhD, FACS, are lead authors of new research suggesting that radiation therapy may be particularly effective in some patients with breast cancer.

Histones are a family of small proteins responsible for folding and packaging DNA into tightly packed strands. The histone H2AX plays a central role in the repair of damaged DNA, and although this histone is often much more active in cancer cells than in normal cells, its role in breast cancer is not very clear.

Examining expression levels of H2AX in breast cancer tumor data from The Cancer Genome Atlas, a large National Institutes of Health database containing genetic information about tumor tissue from more than 11,000 patients, the Roswell Park team found that breast cancer patients whose tumors had high levels of H2AX had a significantly worse prognosis than those with low levels. This finding was true for both overall survival and disease-free survival, or the length of time after treatment that the patient survives without any signs or symptoms of breast cancer.

“We knew that this histone played a large role in DNA repair, but here we found that H2AX is involved in several different pathways leading to the development of breast cancer,” says Dr. Katsuta. “The association between H2AX and a poor outcome was significant for all breast cancer patients, especially those with advanced disease.”

Remarkably, the team also found that tumors with high levels of H2AX were more sensitive to radiation than other tumors. “Our findings suggest that H2AX could be used to identify breast cancer patients who have a poor prognosis but are more likely to respond well to radiation therapy, which could help personalize and improve treatment,” adds Dr. Takabe.

More than 20 teams from Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center have been invited to present their research at AACR 2018. In addition, Marc Ernstoff, MD, The Katherine Anne Gioia Chair of Medicine, led the roundtable discussion “Practicing immunotherapy in the clinic” on April 14 and Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, FRCOG, FACOG, Deputy Director, Chair of Gynecologic Oncology and Executive Director of the Center for Immunotherapy was lead discussant for the session “Multimodality Immuno-oncology Approaches” on April 15. Dr. Odunsi will also be the featured presenter at an April 18 Meet the Experts session, “Reprogramming the Tumor Microenvironment to Enhance ‘Next-Generation’ Adoptive Cellular Therapy.”


Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is a community united by the drive to eliminate cancer’s grip on humanity by unlocking its secrets through personalized approaches and unleashing the healing power of hope. Founded by Dr. Roswell Park in 1898, it is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in Upstate New York. Learn more at, or contact us at 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or

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