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Breast cancer: Genetic find a major breakthrough

Around 10% of Irish women will develop the condition during their lifetimes.

Image: Shutterstock/CristinaMuraca

IT IS A condition that kills more than 700 Irish women a year, and that has a devastating impact on those fighting the condition.

Breast cancer accounts for almost a third of all cancer diagnoses given to Irish women, and almost 10% are at risk of developing it during their lifetime.

Now, it looks like there has been a major breakthrough in understanding the condition.

Research from UK-based the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has looked at the DNA changes of breast cancer sufferers from across the world and identified a limited number of genes connected to a person developing the condition.

Dr Serena Nik-Zainal, the scientist who led the research, has called it “a step closer to personalised healthcare for cancer”.

How was the research carried out? 

Published in two parts in scientific journals Nature and Nature Communications, the study looked at the full genetic code in 560 breast cancers.

The result was the discovery of 93 protein-coding cancer genes that had the potential to cause tumors when mutated.

To put this in context, a person’s genome – their complete set of DNA – has around 20,000 genes in it.

Out of these, it is the 93 genes identified by Nik-Zainal and her team that have the potential to cause breast cancer.

This can now serve as a list which will allow drug companies and researchers to being to develop personalised treatments.

cancer treatment These are the genome profiles used in the study that will hopefully lead to better cancer treatment Source: Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

The subjects included in the study were 556 women and four men.

What will happen now? 

The bad news for those at risk or suffering from breast cancer is that this research isn’t likely to produce new treatments for at least a decade.

Speaking about the new treatment, Professor Mike Stratton, director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said:

This huge study, examining in great detail the many thousands of mutations present in each of the genomes of 560 cases brings us much closer to a complete description of the changes in DNA in breast cancer and thus to a comprehensive understanding of the causes of the disease and the opportunities for new treatments.

Read: Irish student whose mother had breast cancer is researching new ways to identify the disease

Also: Should we be worried that this controversial weedkiller will be used for seven more years?

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