Researchers get closer to understanding the root causes of breast cancer

Posted at 6:04 PM, Sep 24, 2012
and last updated 2012-09-24 21:14:37-04

(CBS) -  A new study could lead to major breakthroughs in the way doctors treat breast cancer. After analyzing the genetics of actual tumors, researchers are closing in on the causes of cancer and how to cure it.

A study team analyzed the genetics of more than 800 patients and was able to separate cancers into four distinct types. Each of those types reveal unique, genetic roadmaps to what drives the cancers.

"When we look at a woman's tumor we can ideally identify the causes of her tumor and then give her the therapies that target those particular causes," said Dr. Charles Perou from the University of North Carolina.

Breast cancer kills more than 35,000 women a year. This study, published in the journal Nature was the broadest investigation so far of the genetics of the disease. It focused on early cancers that had not yet spread to other parts of the body.

One of the most significant findings involves an aggressive type of cancer, known as "Triple Negative".

Researchers found tumor cells from "Triple Negative" cancers are genetically more similar to ovarian cancers than to other breast cancers, which could men ovarian treatments are a more effective therapy.

The next step is a clinical trial, but in the meantime, doctors describe the findings as stunning and a giant step toward understanding the root causes of breast cancer.