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Breast Cancer Falls Into Four Genetic Types

By September 25, 2012

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Breast cancer can develop when genetic mutations occur and the body can't repair those genes or stop the rapid overgrowth of cells. Most of us have heard of the BRCA gene mutations and read news of other genes that influence the growth of breast cancer. And you may have seen stories on genetic testing and personalized treatments for cancer - the hope being that the more we know about this disease, the more effectively we can beat it, treat it, and prevent it. A new study has opened another door to the future of breast cancer treatments, based on four genetic categories. The results of this study were published this month in the journal Nature by The Cancer Genome Atlas Network.

The findings of this study won't immediately change treatments for cancer patients for several years. More studies and trials will be done before scientists know just how to use the information to better knock out specific genetic types of breast cancer. Once that happens, treatments should become more precise and effective.

Oncologists have many factors to base treatment decisions on: tumor grade, hormone receptors, protein expression, and genetic information. We are used to talking about breast cancers in terms of estrogen sensitivity, HER2 protein, and hormone-negative types such as Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC). Those classifications are not purely genetic, but they have been very influential in determining which drugs and other therapies should be used to fight the cancer.

HER2 positive breast tumors respond well to the drug Herceptin because it is a targeted therapy. That's a good example of how better information about a cancer can improve treatment. This study found that Triple Negative Breast Cancer looks genetically similar to a type of ovarian cancer that can be successfully treated. The hope is that the same existing therapy that currently attacks that particular brand of ovarian cancer will be used to defeat cases of TNBC. If this proves true, patients may not have to wait years for the most effective treatment, because it may already be available!

Source: Comprehensive molecular portraits of human breast tumours. Nature (2012), published online 23 September 2012.

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September 27, 2012 at 12:35 pm
(1) Haralee says:

This is encourgaing news for the future!

October 22, 2012 at 7:25 pm
(2) Charlotte Wolter says:

The study provides important new information about HER2 tumors. While these tumors do appear to be a group with many similarities, it is not a uniform group. Within the HER2 type, there are a few subtypes that may respond differently to standard treatments, such as Herceptin.
The researchers studied only the genetics of the tumors, not the outcomes for each subtype with standard treatments. That would be different research, and hopefully it will be done soon. The researchers did point out genetic differences that suggest treatment opportunities, but creating those treatments and testing them is not what they do.

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