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Genetic “Signature” of Breast Tumors Has Potential to Personalize Treatment

According to a study published in the December 19th issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers have found a genetic “signature” in breast tumors that appears to predict whether the cancer will spread, reported Reuters. Such a diagnosis could spare women unnecessary anxiety and for some, allow them to avoid chemotherapy altogether. Dr. Laura J. van’t Veer, co-author of the Netherlands Cancer Institute study, told Reuters Health that practically all breast cancer patients are treated as if they have an aggressive form of the disease that will likely spread throughout the body. However, less than one third develop distant metastasesÑa tumor that has infiltrated other parts of the body.

The results of the study show that only 5.5 percent of the women whose tumors had a low-risk genetic signature died within the next decade, as opposed to 45 percent of women with high-risk signatures, reported the New York Times. While breast cancer patients must await further studies to confirm findings, physicians and researchers are excited by the potential. “I think it’s going to change completely the way we practiceÉI think that the era of treating tumors just based on their size, the extent of where they have spread in the body, and how they look under the microscope these days are numbered,” University of Cambridge cancer specialist Dr. Carlos Caldas told the Associated Press.

According to the American Cancer Society about 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the US and approximately 40,000 die, reported the Associated Press.

LEARN MORE: Visit the FMF Breast Cancer Info Site

TAKE ACTION: Sign a petition from the National Breast Cancer Coalition to increase federal funding for breast cancer research.

Sources:

NY Times 12/19/02; Associated Press 12/19/02 & 12/20/02; Reuters 12/18/02