Genetic find lauded as 'milestone' for breast cancer research

Dive Brief:

  • Researchers from the Sanger Institute in Cambridge, led by its director Sir Mike Stratton, published a study in Nature that Stratton referred to as a "milestone" in cancer research that could change breast cancer treatment and prevention. 
  • The study analyzed the genome sequences of 560 breast cancers to understand the mutations and found 93 protein-coding cancer genes are probable breast cancer driver mutations. 
  • Stratton said the list of 93 genes will be shared with universities and healthcare companies to develop new drugs against the mutated genes and their target proteins. 

Dive Insight:

The study is the largest of its nature to find "practically all the errors that cause healthy breast tissue to go rogue," BBC reported.

Targeted therapies against gene mutations are already being used by patients - such as Herceptin. However, Stratton said new drugs will take about a decade before they reach the market and told the BBC, "Cancers are devious beasts and they work out ways of developing resistance to new therapeutics so overall I'm optimistic, but it's a tempered optimism." 

Mutations leave unique scars on DNA, called mutational signatures, the researchers used to identify 12 damage types that cause breast mutations. Researchers are optimistic this information could one day reduce the risk of cancers. 

Dr. Emma Smith from Cancer Research UK told the BBC the genetic scale of this study could not only be important for developing new treatments but also for increasing cancer survival rates. 

Breast cancer screening guidelines have caused some confusion earlier this year when the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force issued new guidelines that differed from those from the American Cancer Society (ACS). The Task Force recommends mammograms every two years for women starting at age 50, and optional for women in their 40s. However, the ACS recommends annual mammograms for women between 45 and 54, and then biannually, as previously reported Healthcare Dive.

According to the ACS, 246,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed this year and about 40,500 women will die from breast cancer. In addition, about 61,000 cases of early, non-invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed this year. 

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