Breast Cancer Not One But Ten Diseases
April 20, 2012

Breast Cancer Not One But Ten Diseases

Connie K. Ho for

Breast cancer is a global epidemic with 1.4 million women suffering from it each year. However, progress has been made as researchers in Canada and the U.K. have found that breast cancer is not one disease but 10. The new categories could improve treatment for patients, tailoring drugs for personalized treatment and helping predict more accurate survival rates.

The study, released in the journal Nature, looked at breast cancer samples from 2,000 women.

The team consisted of members from Molecular Taxonomy of Breast Cancer International Consortium (METABRIC), the Cancer Research UK's Cambridge Research Institute, and the British Columbia Cancer Centre.

The group looked at the genetics of the tumor, including mutated genes and genes in overdrive.

Currently, breast cancer is determined by “markers” on tumors that are diagnosed under the microscope. For example, hormone therapies are used for “estrogen receptors” and those with “Her2receptor” can use Herceptin for treatment. However, drugs developed do not work the same for every female. The new study showed that the genes could change into ten different categories.

"This is the largest ever study looking in detail at the genetics of breast tumors,” commented Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, in an interview with BBC. "This will change the way we look at breast cancer, it will have an enormous impact in the years to come in diagnosing and treating breast cancer. We think this is a landmark study."

The recent findings help to update the “breast cancer map” and identifies a new group of cancer genes, stated the Guardian.

"Being able to tailor treatments to the needs of individual patients is considered the Holy Grail for clinicians and this extensive study brings us another step further to that goal,” remarked Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of the Breast Cancer Campaign, in a BBC article.

The new research prompts drug makers to look into new studies as well. Carlos Caldas, one of the authors and the chairman of cancer medicine at the University of Cambridge in England, told Bloomberg Business Week that the study should prompt pharmaceutical companies to focus on tyrosine kinases, phosphatases, and chromatin modifiers as possible new treatments. In the future, new drugs could possibly target each subgroup of cancer genes. Julia Wilson, head of research information at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, agreed that the new discovery would help the medical community better understand the basics of breast cancer and the rates of survival.

“It´s really helping us to make sure each patient gets the right treatment at the right time. And it´s really sparing them from grueling treatment if it´s not going to work,” mentioned Wilson in the Bloomberg Business Week article.

The BBC reports that it will take three years for the findings to be implemented in hospitals. Kumar and his team are looking into developing more research, following up, and designing trials. The results of this report could also influence research done in other areas regarding tumors including cancer studies done on the lungs, prostate, and the colorectal region.

“Similar studies are begging to be done in other common human tumors,” commented Caldas to Bloomberg Business Week.