Innovative study rewrites the book on breast cancer

April 26, 2012

Researchers report that breast cancer is actually 10 different diseases, suggesting tumor-specific diagnosis and treatment may be in the future.

Extensive analysis of gene activity in breast tumor samples has identified 10 subcategories of the disease.

The research suggests that therapies targeted to the individual cancer subcategory could be developed.

Potentially everything about the way clinicians diagnose and treat breast cancer will change in the next few years because of groundbreaking research from the United Kingdom and Canada.

In a study published online April 18 in Nature, researchers report that breast cancer is actually 10 different diseases, and that the findings will facilitate more accurate diagnosis of the disease and more successful tailoring of effective treatment to tumor type, although probably not immediately-tests that can fully use the new information have yet to be developed. 

Two thousand frozen tumor samples from women diagnosed with breast cancer 5 to 10 years ago from 5 hospital sites were examined. By pairing analyses of both DNA and RNA, researchers were able to identify oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes, which helped them reclassify breast cancer into 10 new subgroups (IntClust 1-10) based on gene activity, each correlating with its own set of clinical outcomes and survival patterns. In addition, several completely new genes for breast cancer were identified, providing new targets for potential therapies.

The result, the authors write, is that each category can then more accurately be targeted with treatments. Current tests can only look for biomarkers, such as estrogen receptors and the cell surface receptor HER2.

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