Titles and Affiliations

Chairman, Department of Epidemiology and Population Health
Associate Director for Population Sciences, Albert Einstein Cancer Center
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Bronx, New York

Research area

Developing a new method for identifying breast cancer patients with a high risk of developing metastasis.

Impact

Breast cancer metastasis occurs when cancer cells escape the tumor in the breast and spread to distant sites via the blood or lymphatic system. While therapies are available, breast cancer metastasis is currently incurable. Being able to identify women at risk early in the process provides an important opportunity for intervention. Dr. Rohan and his team are conducting studies to develop more accurate ways to predict the risk of metastasis through a new biomarker.

Progress Thus Far

The team previously found that when breast cancer cells are leaving the primary tumor and are about to enter the bloodstream, they form clusters with other cells. These clusters, which Dr. Rohan has termed  “tumor microenvironment of metastasis” (TMEM), include the migrating tumor cell, a macrophage (a type of immune cell), and an endothelial cell (a component of blood vessels) and have been associated with an increased risk of distant metastasis in patients with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. However, this finding was seen in a predominantly white population of patients, which means it may not be generalizable for all patients, and the team would like to expand this analysis to include more races and ethnicities.

What’s next

In the coming year, they will search for TMEM, along with a new marker that is specific for metastatic tumor cells, in a large, multiethnic cohort of breast cancer patients at Montefiore Medical Center. Of the 3,529 women recruited for this study, 36 percent are African American, 28 percent are Hispanic, 22 non-Hispanic White, and 14 percent identify as other races and ethnicities. 

Biography

Dr. Thomas Rohan is Chairman of the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and Associate Director for Population Sciences in the Albert Einstein Cancer Center. He is a past member of the National Cancer Institute Board of Scientific Counselors. He is a cancer epidemiologist with extensive experience in the design, conduct, and analysis of studies of genetic/molecular, nutritional, and hormonal factors in the etiology and pathogenesis of breast cancer. He has published widely on these topics, and he has co-edited books on cancer precursors and on cervical cancer. Dr. Rohan also has extensive experience in conducting translational studies that involve multiple investigators and require careful planning and coordination.