Amazing research alert: There are four genetically distinct classes of breast cancers, according to an article published in the journal Nature. These findings will impact how doctors approach cancer treatment going forward.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Knowing about the different classes of tumors means doctors can tailor a patientÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s therapy so that itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more individualized,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Alyssa Gillego, M.D., breast surgeon at Beth Israel Comprehensive Cancer Center in New York City. That means better targetedÃ¢â‚¬”read: more accurate, less riskyÃ¢â‚¬”approaches, depending on your tumor type.
For instance, one class of cancer cells is called Basal-like, or triple-negative. The researchers determined that it genetically resembles a certain type of ovarian cancer. Currently, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s commonly treated with a class of chemotherapy drugs called Anthracyclines, which are associated with increased risk of heart disease. But knowing that Basal-like cells resemble ovarian cancer cells, which arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t typically treated with Anthracyclines, researchers can begin to study whether there are alternative ways (with fewer side effects) to treat Basal-like cancers.
All that being said, the four genetic differences between breast cancer tumors arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t exactly breaking news to most cancer specialists. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Women are treated based on these four categories already,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Gillego.
What makes this study newsworthy, then, isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t so much the nitty-gritty findings, but rather that it serves as further evidence to support the need for personalized medicine, an increasingly popular philosophy in patient care. While many doctors now support this philosophy, some still exist who arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t as up-to-date and prefer to treat patients wholesale, rather than as individuals.
For example, traditionally tumor size has dictated whether a patient receives chemotherapy, says Gillego. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If the tumor was a centimeter in diameter, you automatically got chemotherapy, regardless of genetics. There are people in other parts of the world, and even some parts of this country, who still practice like that.Ã¢â‚¬Â The problem with this approach, as supported by the study findings, is that chemotherapy doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t actually work on all tumors. Some need hormone therapy. Some just need surgery. Some need a combination of all or some of the above. The bottom line, though, is that one size does not fit all when it comes to cancer treatments. And ultimately, the more research that exists that supports the need for genetics-based, individualized treatments, the better for the future of cancer care.
In the meantime, if you find yourself facing a breast cancer diagnosis, Gillego recommends seeking treatment from a breast cancer specialist at a cancer center. Cancer centers tend to have integrated teams, where oncologists, radiologists, surgeons, and other specialists all work together closely. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Integrated teams are better set up to provide patient-centered therapy,Ã¢â‚¬Â she says. Just what the doctor ordered.
photo: Hemera/Thinkstock More from WH:
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