Breast Cancer Breakthrough: Canadian Scientists Decode Tumour DNA

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This guy's pretty happy right now. He's Dr. Sam Aparicio, head of the BC Cancer Agency Department of Breast and Molecular Oncology, and you may have heard just last week that he and a team of scientists have made a major breast cancer breakthrough: they've honed in on specific breast cancer DNA mutations that trigger the spread of the disease. They decoded all three billion letters in a tumour's DNA sequence to get there, and discovered that mutations in a study patient's initial lobular (in the breast's milk glands) tumour were not identical to the mutations found in a metastatic (spread to another part of the body) tumour nine years later.

Put another way, the discovery proves the starting-point lobular breast cancer mutates so much over time that it becomes, essentially, a genetically different beast. It also reveals a small core of mutated DNA that remains consistent throughout, which shows them up as key players in the cancer's spread. And in spotlighting those triggers, the agency is laying the groundwork for the development of new, targeted treatments and therapies.

The press announcement indicates that lobular breast cancer "accounts for 10 per cent of all breast cancers." My friend M. Sara Rosenthal, director of the University of Kentucky Program for Bioethics, Canadian expat and author of a slew of acclaimed health books, points out that the most common type of breast cancer originates in the breast's ducts. So at the moment we can only hope that this study will help researchers advance significantly in finding solutions in that realm as well.

Still, Dr. Aparicio is right to look happy right now, as are we -- the pink light of hope for a breast cancer cure glows a little more brightly.

For more, here are links to Sheryl Ubelacker's Canadian Press article on the subject, and the BC Cancer Agency's press release.

Image courtesy of the BC Cancer Agency.