A new study, the largest ever to analyze the genetics of breast tumors, has determined that what we call breast cancer is really 10 separate diseases and should be thought of and treated as such. The research is already being hailed as "revolutionary" and a "landmark" in the way breast cancer is diagnosed and treated.
Cancers are usually named after the place they afflict — breast, lung, brain — but, as one might guess, it's not that simple, which is why treatment in the field of "personalized medicine" is tailored to the genetics of a disease rather than the organ or body part. In the case of breast cancer, there are distinct survival differences between the categories — clusters two and five have a 15-year survival of around 40 percent, while clusters three and four have a 75 percent chance of survival over the same period. As of now, there's only a targeted therapy for one of the groups, but the hope is that by identifying 10 different cancers, it will be possible for researchers to design drugs for each one.
Lead researcher Prof Carlos Caldas told the BBC that the new categories 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." This possibility would be the "Holy Grail" said Baroness Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of the Breast Cancer Campaign.
Don't get too excited just yet — the researchers need to prove that the classifications would actually benefit breast cancer patients before hospitals start implementing the findings. It'll be at least three years, if not longer, for doctors to rank breast cancer from 1-10.
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