Breast cancer, once thought to be a single disease, is turning out to be a collection of somewhat different disorders. That knowledge is tempering the approach to treatment as experts begin using gene-based information to individualize therapies, reports the October 2009 issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch.
A key focus of breast cancer research today is identifying specific genes and protein receptors that can distinguish resistant forms of cancer from those that are easier to eradicate. In the process, it has become clear that breast cancer comes in different forms that respond to varying treatments.
The discovery of the BRCA genes in 1994 transformed approaches to prevention in women who are at high risk for breast cancer. Women carrying one of these harmful genes have options: screening via frequent mammograms and breast MRI scans, taking the drug tamoxifen to reduce the risk, or undergoing double mastectomy. Most breast cancer, though, isn't hereditary. Gene mutations are involved, but rather than being passed down from generation to generation, they crop up when errors occur in the DNA duplication process during cell division.
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