April 18, 2012 -- Doctors might one day be able to predict survival more accurately in women with breast cancer after reclassifying the disease into 10 new categories based on the genetic fingerprint of a tumor.
Scientists behind the latest research say the discovery amounts to a rewriting of the rule book on breast cancer and will allow more individually tailored treatment options for women with the disease.
A Visual Guide to Breast Cancer
The research, published in the journal Nature, is the largest global gene study of breast cancer tissue ever performed, and the culmination of decades of research into the disease.
A team at Cancer Research U.K.'s Cambridge Research Institute, in collaboration with the B.C. Cancer Agency in Vancouver, Canada, analyzed the DNA and RNA of 2,000 tumor samples taken from women diagnosed with breast cancer between five and 10 years ago.
Instead of examining these tumor samples under a microscope, they analyzed their genetic profile, hunting for genetic mutations that drive breast tumor development. The analysis uncovered several new breast cancer genes behind the disease, which the researchers say will be potential targets for the development of new types of drugs.
It also revealed the relationship between these genes and known cell activities that control cell growth and division. This could pinpoint how these gene mutations cause cancer, by disrupting important cell processes.
Individually Tailored Medication
The scientists say their analysis has allowed them to reclassify breast cancer into 10 new categories based on gene activity rather than the current tests done in laboratories, which look for the presence of indicators such as estrogen receptor (ER) or the cell surface receptor HER2. The researchers say this new classification could change the way medication is tailored to treat women with breast cancer.
"We've drilled down into the fundamental detail of the biological causes of breast cancer in a comprehensive genetic study," says one of the researchers, Carlos Caldas, MD, a professor at the University of Cambridge. "Based on our results we've reclassified breast cancer into 10 types, making breast cancer an umbrella term for an even greater number of diseases.