DNA analysis helps to 'complete picture' of breast cancer

Analysis of the complete genetic code of hundreds of breast tumours could potentially lead to more personalised care for cancer patients, according to an international team of scientists, spearheaded by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

Research reveals that a patient's tumour may be highly individual, with experts claiming that these findings offer a more comprehensive view of breast cancer. 

The study analysed the complete genetic code, or genome, of 560 breast tumours and uncovered five genes newly associated with the disease.

Dr Emma Smith, Cancer Research UK’s science information manager, commented: “This study brings us closer to getting a complete picture of the genetic changes at the heart of breast cancer and throws up intriguing clues about the key biological processes that go wrong in cells and drive the disease.” 

Results from the study provide evidence that breast tumours can differ greatly between patients. 

This was discovered by searching for gene faults that encourage the disease to grow, as well as characteristic patterns of DNA faults (known as mutational signatures) in each tumour. 

Scientists also found that women whose tumour cells carried faults in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes - which increase the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer - had different genetic profiles that were distinct from other breast tumours. 

This type of large-scale research could prove vital for developing new breast cancer treatments, and by understanding these underlying processes more effective treatments for patients have already been put in place. 

Leader of the team of researchers, Dr Serena Nik-Zainal, commented: "In the future, we'd like to be able to profile individual cancer genomes so that we can identify the treatment most likely to be successful for a woman or man diagnosed with breast cancer. 

“It is a step closer to personalised healthcare for cancer. Genetic studies on this scale could be an important stepping stone towards developing new drugs and boosting the number of people who survive cancer.”