A discovery could soon produce real benefits for women suffering from a lethal strain of breast cancer.
“Utilizing this genetic information about how the cancer really comes assembled will help us pick and choose what are the optimal treatments for the future,” says Dr. Scott Dunbar, oncologist with Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
As researchers explore cancer at its cellular level, they looked at the makeup of a form called triple negative breast cancer.
“Typically on the breast cancer cell we expect to see some expression of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone on the surface of the cell that suggest a better nature to the cell. When neither estrogen and progesterone are present at all on the surface of the cell and the last protein that regulates growth is also missing, these are felt to be very immature or very aggressive types of cancer cells,” says Dr. Dunbar.
Triple-negative tumors account for 10-15% of all breast cancers and are more common in younger women and African Americans. Today, they’re treated like most other breast cancer patients. But that could change.
“It appears that these cells look and appear to have the same or many of the same genetic abnormalities that are associated with ovarian cancer, which may allow of management and treatment of these particular woman with chemotherapy regimens which have been developed to treat ovarian cancer,” says Dr. Dunbar.
This finding came out of a massive genome study that mapped every mutation of breast cancer. If this triple-negative breast cancer is genetically the same as ovarian cancer, it may mean these breast cancer patients will benefit from less toxic treatment.
“So this may actually afford more treatment options for woman that historically have had a very difficult time or a poor prognosis related to that particular type of cancer,” says Dr. Dunbar.