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Genetic similarities found between ovarian and breast cancers

01 October 2012

By Dr Zara Mahmoud

Appeared in BioNews 675

Scientists have found molecular similarities between a subtype of breast cancer and a hard-to-treat form of ovarian cancer. The researchers analysed over 800 tumour samples, characterising their DNA and protein expression patterns. These results provide greater detail into what goes wrong in breast cancer.

Professor Carlos Caldas, from Cancer Research UK, who was not involved in the study said: 'This comprehensive new analysis of 800 breast tumours is a welcome addition to the wealth of new information about the underlying biology of breast cancer, and will be a precious and valuable resource for cancer researchers'.

Researchers, based at National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) in the USA, studied over 800 tumours in detail, looking at DNA, mRNA and protein expression patterns. In doing so, researchers found the breast cancers fell into four main groups; HER2-enriched, luminal A, luminal B and basal-like.

Further study showed the basal-like subtype of breast cancer had similarities, at the level of the genome, with serous ovarian cancer. Similar genomic mutations and frequencies of mutation were found between both forms of cancer.

Basal-like breast cancer is often referred to as triple negative because these tumours generally test negative for three receptors normally associated with breast cancer. This makes them resistant to conventional treatment methods that target these receptors.

Professor Harold Varmus, of the NCI, said: 'The molecular similarity of one of the principal subtypes of breast cancer to that found in ovarian cancer gives us additional leverage to compare treatments and outcomes across these two cancers. This treasure trove of genetic information will need to be examined in great detail to identify how we can use it functionally and clinically'.

It is expected that new findings will emerge from this comprehensive study. Eric Greene, director of the NHGRI, comment: 'The data generated by this programme comprise a vast resource that investigators will be analysing for years to come. The resource of information about breast cancer genomes will undoubtedly fuel myriad discoveries by the cancer research community'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Nature | 23 September 2012
 
New York Daily News | 26 September 2012
 
Cancer Research UK | 23 September 2012
 
The Cancer Genome Atlas (press release) | 23 September 2012
 

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