In the race to find a definitive solution to breast cancer, a team of dedicated researchers has mapped 93 sets of genes that, when mutated, can cause cancerous tumors in breast tissue. To find the genes, the team had to explore the entirety of the human genetic code - some 3 billion letters - in 560 breast cancers.
The results have not only enhanced our understanding of how breast cancer forms but also opened the doors for researchers to explore why breast cancer forms.
New Understandings of How Breast Cancer Forms
The team was able to identify 12 different types of damage that lead to mutations in the genetic code of the breast. However, the cause of the damage remains largely unexplained and will become a project for those developing therapies to scrutinize.
They did manage to confirm that some damage types are caused by a hereditary trait that triggers a mutation after the breast has formed. Once the damage occurs in the genetic code, a tumor begins to grow.
Another damage type causes a mutation when the body attempts to combat a virus. Upon recognizing the virus, the body attempts to mutate the virus’s genetic code, but the attack has a chance to alter the body’s genetics as well. In the aftermath, the immune response can trigger a mutation in the breast that begins the growth cycle for a cancerous tumor.
How the Study Will Change Breast Cancer Research
Of the 20,000 genes in the human genome, the 93 that are vulnerable to cancer if mutated have been positively identified. Narrowing the field will allow those with financial incentive to begin developing therapies for the most common damage types and genetic mutations that lead to breast cancer.
While optimism is high, there are some caveats. Since the majority (a shocking 60%) of the mutations that create the conditions for cancer are found in only 10 of the 93 genes discovered by the research team, the 83 leftover possible mutations are not likely to have the financial backing to develop effective therapies.
There are even more rare cancers within those 83 additional cancer-prone genes. Some of the mutations discovered are highly uncommon and the damage types that trigger them can also be rare. Without further study, though, we won’t know just how uncommon they are.
Personalized Cancer Diagnoses and Treatments
The ability to narrow the cause of breast cancer to 93 genes capable of mutation will allow for more individualized cancer treatment in the future. Upon diagnosis of a cancerous tumor, medical professionals will be better equipped to identify hereditary and environmental causes for cancers and suggest treatment plans tailored to those findings.
For example, if a patient has been diagnosed with cancer that has developed from a mutation caused by a virus, a physician may be able to suggest alterations to the patient’s living conditions that will reduce the risk of contacting the offending virus. Once the causes of damage that drive mutations are confirmed, medical professionals will have invaluable preventive knowledge.
With a new set of clues about the biological processes that spur cancer growth in the human breast, the team’s research will not only be vital to cancer prevention but will also aid in the bid to increase the number of cancer survivors.