Breast Cancer Actually 10 Different Diseases

Breast cancer landscape completely redrawn

(RxWiki News) Breast cancer is one type of malignancy - right? Wrong. New research has found that the most predominant cancer in women - outside of skin cancer - actually is ten different diseases.

This landmark study will totally change the way breast cancer is diagnosed and treated.

Based on decades of collaborative research, breast cancer will become "an umbrella term" to describe a disease that includes ten subtypes.

This reclassification means that one day clinicians will use only those drugs that work against the genetic characteristics of an individual's tumor.

"Discuss all of your treatment options with your oncologist."

Scientists at Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute, in collaboration with the BC Cancer Agency Vancouver Canada, conducted the largest global study of its kind ever performed, which involved examining the genes found in 2,000 breast cancer tumors.

Study findings were published April 18, 2012 online in the international journal Nature.

“Our results will pave the way for doctors in the future to diagnose the type of breast cancer a woman has, the types of drugs that will work, and those that won’t, in a much more precise way than is currently possible," said Professor Carlos Caldas, senior group leader at Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute and the Department of Oncology at the University of Cambridge.

“This research won’t affect women diagnosed with breast cancer today. But in the future, breast cancer patients will receive treatment targeted to the genetic fingerprint of their tumor," said Caldas, who is a study co-lead author.

Several new genes were discovered to be linked to breast cancer. And scientists are beginning to understand the biological activities of these various cancer subtypes which will advance personalized treatment of the disease.

Next, scientists will work to learn how tumors in each group behave - "for example do they grow or spread quickly? And we need to carry out more research in the laboratory and in patients to confirm the most effective treatment plan for each of the 10 types of breast cancer," Caldas said.

“The next stage is to discover how tumors in each subgroup behave – for example do they grow or spread quickly? And we need to carry out more research in the laboratory and in patients to confirm the most effective treatment plan for each of the 10 types of breast cancer.”

The research was supported by the BC Cancer Foundation, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation - BC/Yukon Region and Prairies/NWT Region, Michael Smith Foundation and Cancer Research UK.

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Review Date: 
April 23, 2012