Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A New View of Breast Cancer; Scientists Move toward Defining Cancers by Gene Mutations Rather Than Location in the Body

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A New View of Breast Cancer; Scientists Move toward Defining Cancers by Gene Mutations Rather Than Location in the Body

Article excerpt

Some aggressive breast tumors behave more like ovarian cancers and might be more treatable with the same drug regimen, according to research from Washington University.

The discovery comes as scientists learn more about the genetics of cancer and move away from defining cancers by their location in the body and more by the gene mutations that caused them.

The researchers analyzed the DNA of 348 breast tumors including those classified as basal-like, also known as triple-negative. Basal- like tumors tend to be aggressive and are more likely to affect women who are younger, African-American or have a family history of breast cancer. They are also more likely to recur after treatment.

The tumors, which make up about 10 percent of all breast cancers, have challenged doctors because they do not respond well to hormone therapies such as tamoxifen that are the standard of care for other forms of breast cancer.

"We basically developed a recipe for everybody and did not make a recipe specific for basal-like breast cancer," said Dr. Matthew Ellis, a Washington University oncologist and co-author of the paper published Sunday in the journal Nature. "It was of great interest to sequence these tumors to try to find out what it is that makes them tick."

The genetic analysis of the basal-like tumors uncovered similarities to the DNA in certain ovarian tumors, which are typically treated with a different form of chemotherapy.

Now, doctors might decide to "steal from ovarian cancer literature," as Ellis puts it, to potentially benefit a subset of triple-negative breast cancer patients.

Some doctors had already sensed that basal-like breast tumors might respond to drugs aimed at ovarian cancer because of similar genetic risk factors for the two diseases, but the research gives them a potential reason behind the hypothesis, Ellis said.

The research was also led by the University of North Carolina as part of the Cancer Genome Atlas, a project funded by the National Institutes of Health to map the genetic code of many cancers. …

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