(CBS 11 NEWS) – After analyzing the genetics of actual tumors, researchers say they are now closing in on the causes of cancer and how to cure it. It means breast cancer could soon be treated in different ways, and hopefully that will make treatments more effective.
Tonia Mingo was just turning 36 when she found a lump in her breast. It was stage two cancer.
“From the time I was diagnosed until now, I still keep saying I’m going to be ok,” she says.
A year after Mingo’s surgery and chemotherapy, new research could give doctors insight into what caused her cancer.
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 reveals 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,” says Dr. Charles Perou from the University of North Carolina.
Breast cancer kills more than 35-thousand women a year. This study was the broadest investigation so far of the genetics of the disease. One of the most significant findings involves the aggressive type of cancer Mingo had, which is known as triple negative.
“These types of cancers are known to occur more commonly in young women who are African American,” says Dr. Alyssa Gillego or Beth Israel Medical Center. “These women have a higher risk of recurrence or a higher chance of their cancer coming back.”
Researchers found tumor cells from triple negative cancers are genetically more similar to ovarian cancers than to other breast cancers, which could mean ovarian treatments are a more effective therapy.
“Anything that is going to cure your cancer, to give you that hope that it’s not going to come back, is something good,” says Mingo.
The next step is clinical trials. But in the meantime, doctors describe the findings as stunning, and a giant step toward understanding the root causes of breast cancer.
The study is published online in the Journal “Nature.” It focused on early cancers that had not yet spread to other parts of the body.