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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 14:20 GMT
'Genetic fingerprint' for breast cancer
Scientists could tailor treatment to individuals
Scientists could tailor treatment to individuals
Scientists may one day be able to take a "genetic fingerprint" of every single breast cancer tumour.

It could mean treatment would be designed specifically for the individual.

Experts say it could mean patients would "no longer have to fear breast cancer".

The research is being developed at the Breakthrough Toby Robins Breast Cancer Research Centre, backed by the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer.

I am confident that the day when we will see a future free from the fear of breast cancer is drawing closer

Professor Alan Ashworth, Breakthrough Centre

Scientists believe tumours could be categorised by identifying which genes are switched on or off by chemotherapy.

These genetic 'markers' could then allow treatments to be tailored to the patient.

Figures from the Cancer Research Campaign estimate almost 13,500 women died from breast cancer in the UK in 1997.

'Stamp collecting'

Doctors from the Breakthrough Centre and the Royal Marsden Hospital are using sophisticated genetic techniques to classify and subdivide breast cancers.

Professor Alan Ashworth, director of the Breakthrough Centre, based at The Institute of Cancer Research said: "This process, the genetic equivalent of 'stamp collecting', will allow us to develop individualised treatments to treat the 38,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the UK each year.

"This will save time for patients, avoid giving unnecessary treatment and eliminate needless pain and suffering."

Professor Ashworth was involved in the research which identified the BRCA2 gene, one of the two known genes to cause a predisposition to breast cancer.

He said the fact doctors could not currently tailor treatments meant it was not possible to say how different patients would react to surgery, radiotherapy, hormone therapy and chemotherapy.

'Hundreds of types'

"Increasingly, we are thinking of breast cancer as not just one disease but perhaps 100s of different types of diseases."

He warned breast cancer was a complex disease to understand.

But he added: "Progress is being made all the time in understanding the disease and eventually this will make a real difference for breast cancer patients.

"I am confident that the day when we will see a future free from the fear of breast cancer is drawing closer."

See also:

01 Dec 01 | Health
Women fail to spot breast cancer
05 Nov 01 | Health
Breast 'most common cancer'
17 Mar 00 | C-D
Breast Cancer
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