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Breakthrough! Scientists find four genetic causes for breast cancer

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 24th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A breakthrough in the study of breast cancer was announced this past weekend. Scientists completing an in-depth analysis declared that there are four distinct major classes linked to genetic causes of the disease.  They hope the discovery will lead to more effective treatments, perhaps with drugs already used to combat breast cancer.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Among the new findings is that one type of breast cancer might be vulnerable to drugs that already work against ovarian cancer.

As reported online in the journal Nature, the study concentrated on the biological details of tumors, rather than focusing primarily on where cancer arises in the body. It's hoped that further research can reveal cancer's genetic weaknesses for better drug targeting.

"With this study, we're one giant step closer to understanding the genetic origins of the four major subtypes of breast cancer," Dr. Matthew Ellis of the Washington University School of Medicine said.

"Now we can investigate which drugs work best for patients based on the genetic profiles of their tumors," he said.

Researchers analyzed DNA of breast cancer tumors from 825 patients, and looked for abnormalities. Breast cancers appear to fall into four main classes when viewed in this way.

One class showed similarities to ovarian cancers, suggesting it may be driven by similar biological developments.

The study yielded some surprising findings. It found one of the most deadly subtypes, known as "basal-like" were more similar to ovarian tumors than other breast cancers.

"It's clear they are genetically more similar to ovarian tumors than to other breast cancers," Ellis said. "Whether they can be treated the same way is an intriguing possibility that needs to be explored."

Around 48,000 women in the U.K. develop breast cancer every year, most of whom are over 50. There is a good chance of recovery if it is detected in its early stages.

Professor Carlos Caldas, from Cancer Research U.K., said: "This comprehensive new analysis of 800 breast tumors is a welcome addition to the wealth of new information about the underlying biology of breast cancer, and will be a precious and valuable resource for cancer researchers.

"This will allow us to further refine understanding of the disease, with the ultimate aim of improving things for those who matter most - people diagnosed with breast cancer."

The Cancer Genome Atlas, which conducted the study, is a federally funded project that has produced similar analyses for brain, colorectal, lung, and ovarian cancers.

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