Researchers Find Four Distinct Types of Breast Cancer

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 24 2012 10:01 AM

Researchers Find Four Distinct Types of Breast Cancer

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A breast cancer patient receives a trial medication treatment in the infusion center in San Francisco

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Scientists developing new treatments for breast cancer just received a treasure trove of information to work with after researchers identified four distinct genetic types of the disease—and even more variation among individual tumors.

Breast cancer is heterogeneous, and the new study, published Sunday, indicates that scientists will need to develop more individualized treatments for the genetic variety found within the disease. The New York Times has a good write up of the study, in which they identify some of the more unexpected findings and short-term implications of the results:

The study’s biggest surprise involved a particularly deadly breast cancer whose tumor cells resemble basal cells of the skin and sweat glands, which are in the deepest layer of the skin. These breast cells form a scaffolding for milk duct cells. This type of cancer is often called triple negative and accounts for a small percentage of breast cancer.
But researchers found that this cancer was entirely different from the other types of breast cancer and much more resembles ovarian cancer and a type of lung cancer...There are immediate therapeutic implications. The study gives a biologic reason to try some routine treatments for ovarian cancer instead of a common class of drugs used in breast cancer known as anthracyclines.
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The genetic analysis is part of a larger project called the Cancer Genome Atlas. The project has already resulted in similar studies on colon cancer and lung cancer.

If you'd like to check out the full study head over to Nature, or check out the full write-up over at the New York Times.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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