The genetic and molecular composition of breast tumors contains traces of how a woman's disease can develop, including the likelihood of it returning after treatment, and in what timeframe, according to a Cancer Research UK-funded study published this week in the journal Nature.
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Researchers at the University of Cambridge and Stanford University examined patterns of genetic changes in breast cancer tumors from nearly 2,000 women and followed their progress over 20 years, including whether the cancer returned. They used this information to create a statistical tool that can better predict whether and when a woman's breast cancer could return.
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"Breast cancer treatments have improved dramatically in recent years, but unfortunately for some women, their breast cancer returns and spreads, becomes incurable. For some, this may be many years later – but it has been impossible to accurately predict who is at risk for repetition and who is clear, "said Carlos Caldas, professor and researcher at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute.
"In this study, we are deeply involved in molecular subtypes of breast cancer, so we can more precisely identify who is at risk of coming back and uncovering new ways of treating them," Caldas said.
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Previous studies by this group showed that breast cancer is not only a disease but rather 11 molecular subgroups. These subgroups have different clinical pathways that vary significantly, even between tumors that appear to be similar. These pathways can help doctors determine the likelihood of cancer returning.
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"We have shown that the molecular nature of a woman's breast cancer determines how their disease can develop, not only in the first 5 years, but also later, even if it returns." Said Oscar Rueda, first author of the paper and Senior Research Associate at Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. "We hope our research tool can be transformed into a test that physicians can easily use to guide treatment recommendations."
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