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Genetic study of breast cancer suggests new treatments

Analyzing the genetics of a deadly form of breast cancer shows it is similar to ovarian cancer and could possibly be treated with the same drugs

by Caroline ArbanasSeptember 23, 2012

The most comprehensive analysis yet of breast cancer shows that one of the most deadly subtypes of this disease is genetically more similar to ovarian tumors than to other breast cancers. The findings of this study suggest that most basal-like breast tumors and ovarian tumors have similar genetic origins and potentially could be treated with the same drugs.

Oncologist Matthew Ellis, MB, BChir, PhD, treats breast cancer patients.
Oncologist Matthew Ellis, MB, BChir, PhD, treats breast cancer patients.

“With this study, we’re one giant step closer to understanding the genetic origins of the four major subtypes of breast cancer,” says Washington University breast oncologist Matthew Ellis, MB, BChir, PhD. Ellis treats breast cancer patients at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. “Now, we can investigate which drugs work best for patients based on the genetic profiles of their tumors. For basal-like breast tumors, it’s clear they are genetically more similar to ovarian tumors than to other breast cancers. Whether they can be treated the same way is an intriguing possibility that needs to be explored.”

The breast cancer analysis is part of The Cancer Genome Atlas project, which brings together leading genetic sequencing centers, including The Genome Institute at Washington University, for the purpose of identifying and cataloging mutations involved in many common cancers. The effort is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

A version of this story appears in Innovate, a magazine published by Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University Physicians highlighting the latest clinical and research advancements offered by these two institutions.