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Landmark change for treatment of breast cancer

By Lauren Turner

A dramatic breakthrough in breast cancer research will lead to a revolution in the way the disease will be diagnosed and treated in years to come, cancer specialists have said.

Researchers have discovered that breast cancer patients can be subdivided into 10 groups, each with a unique genetic fingerprint that will determine the type of drugs and treatment that could lead to a cure.

Instead of looking at breast cancer as a single disease with a limited number of treatments, the scientists believe that it is now more accurate to view it as a range of illnesses with a wide variety of potential therapies that can be tailored to individual patients.

Researchers examined the genetic make-up of 2,000 tumours in what was the largest such study of breast cancer tissue in the world, the culmination of decades of work. They found that instead of one disease, breast cancer can be seen as an ‘umbrella’ term for a variety of diseases.

The research was carried out by Cancer Research UK scientists and its results are published in science journal Nature.

Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “This is a landmark study that really changes the way we think about breast cancer — no longer as one disease but actually as 10 quite distinct diseases, dependent on which genes are really switched on and which ones aren't for an individual woman.

“It's the culmination of decades of research but really with some quite remarkable results from this study. What this research will help us to do is make a much more accurate, much more precise, diagnosis for every patient with breast cancer in the future.

“That will enable us to make sure that we really target the right treatment to the right woman based on those who are going to benefit, or if they're not going to benefit, not exposing them to the side-effects associated with those treatments.”

Up until now, breast cancer had been classified into four subgroups, depending on whether sufferers are oestrogen receptor positive or negative.

Professor Carlos Caldas, senior group leader at Cancer Research UK's Cambridge Research Institute, said: “It's not going to change the outcome for patients treated in the NHS tomorrow. But it will change the way we do clinical trials with new avenues to develop targeted treatments.”

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