Researchers Identify 10 Genetic Error Patterns in Breast Cancer

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One or more errors in a cell’s genetic code or gene behavior can turn a normal cell into a cancer cell -- a cell that grows, divides, and spreads in an uncontrolled way.

Researchers have linked a number of particular genetic errors to cancer development and behavior. As more research is done, it’s become clear that genetic errors are usually different from cancer to cancer, even between two people who’ve been diagnosed with the same type of cancer. It’s also becoming clear that different combinations of genetic errors affect how a cancer behaves and responds to treatment.

A new study did a detailed genetic analysis of nearly 2,000 breast cancers. The researchers found 10 patterns of genetic errors that were linked to the cancers’ prognosis and how they responded to treatment.

The research was published online April 18, 2012 in the journal Nature. Read the abstract of "The genomic and transcriptomic architecture of 2,000 breast tumours reveals novel subgroups."

The breast cancers were analyzed using automated, computerized gene analysis. The analysis looked for three types of genetic errors that have been linked to cancer development and behavior:

  • gene mutations: mistakes in the genetic code 
  • gene over-expression: normal genes that are overactive, or there are too many copies of them; for example HER2-positive breast cancer has too many HER2 genes
  • gene under-expression: normal genes that are underactive or turned off

The researchers then looked at the outcomes of each woman in the study and compared a woman’s outcome to the genetic profile of the cancer she had been diagnosed with. The researchers found 10 groups of genetic errors that were linked to different outcomes:

  • aggressiveness of the cancer
  • response to treatment
  • risk of recurrence
  • tendency to spread
  • overall prognosis

Each group of genetic errors was named and numbered (IntClust-1, IntClust-2, etc., through IntClust-10).

The results suggest that detailed genetic analysis to identify a breast cancer’s specific group of genetic errors could give doctors a more precise and predictable way to estimate prognosis and plan treatment.

While the results are interesting, detailed genetic analysis like the testing done in this study isn’t commonly done. Also, doctors won’t be able to apply this information to breast cancer diagnosis and treatment for several years.

Stay tuned to Research News for the latest information on newer, better ways to diagnose and treat breast cancer.

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