Breast Cancer Is Actually Ten Different DiseasesS

For years, we've been treating breast cancer as a single disease. But a new study has reclassified it into ten separate sub-diseases, all with different genetic features—which could transform the way women are diagnosed and treated.

The research, conducted at the University of British Columbia and published in Nature, analyzed the DNA and RNA of 2,000 tumor samples taken from women diagnosed with breast cancer. That huge pool of data allowed them to spot new patterns— eventually discovering that there are ten subtly different cancers that are all currently lumped together as one.

Because they behave differently—some spread more easily, for instance, while others respond better to certain treatments—these results will allow doctors to treat the diseases more effectively. Professor Carlos Caldas, one of the researchers, told the BBC:

"Our results will pave the way for doctors in the future to diagnose the type of breast cancer a woman has, the types of drugs that will work and those that won't, in a much more precise way than is currently possible."

Indeed, the ability to treat breast cancer patients more specifically, even tailoring their treatments individually, has been considered somewhat of an unattainable dream by oncologists until now. This research takes them a step closer to that ideal. Harpal Kumar, from Cancer Research UK, told the BBC:

"This is the largest ever study looking in detail at the genetics of breast tumours. 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."

In the past, certain breast cancers have proven difficult to treat effectively. These findings not only shed light on why that was the case, they'll help save lives, too. [Nature via BBC]

Image by Piotr Marcinsk/Shutterstock