NEW YORK -- Scientists reported Sunday that they have completed a major analysis of the genetics of breast cancer, finding four major classes of the disease. They hope their work will lead to more effective treatments, perhaps with some drugs already in use.
The new finding offers hints that one type of breast cancer might be vulnerable to drugs that already work against ovarian cancer.
The study, published online Sunday by the journal Nature, is the latest example of research into the biological details of tumors, rather than focusing primarily on where cancer arises in the body.
The hope is that such research can reveal cancer's genetic weaknesses for better drug targeting.
"With this study, we're one giant step closer to understanding the genetic origins of the four major subtypes of breast cancer," Dr. Matthew Ellis of the Washington University School of Medicine said in a statement. He is a co-leader of the research.
"Now we can investigate which drugs work best for patients based on the genetic profiles of their tumors," he said.
The researchers analyzed DNA of breast cancer tumors from 825 patients, looking for abnormalities. Altogether, they reported, breast cancers appear to fall into four main classes when viewed in this way.
One class showed similarities to ovarian cancers, suggesting it may be driven by similar biological developments.
"It's clear they are genetically more similar to ovarian tumors than to other breast cancers," Ellis said. "Whether they can be treated the same way is an intriguing possibility that needs to be explored."
The report is the latest from the Cancer Genome Atlas, a federally funded project that has produced similar analyses for brain, colorectal, lung, and ovarian cancers.
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The 36-year-old "E! News" host announced in October on<a href="http://theclicker.today.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/10/17/8363134-es-giuliana-rancic-reveals-she-has-breast-cancer" target="_hplink"> NBC's Today show</a> that she has breast cancer, and that she was alerted to the cancer via a mammogram during her third in vitro fertilization attempt. "Through my attempt to get pregnant for the third time, we sadly found out that I have early stages of breast cancer," she said <a href="http://theclicker.today.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/10/17/8363134-es-giuliana-rancic-reveals-she-has-breast-cancer" target="_hplink">on the Today show</a>. "It's been a shock. A lot of people have been asking, we saw that you went and got IVF, are you pregnant? But sadly, we've had to put that off." Rancic underwent a double lumpectomy and removal of several of her lymph nodes, but Rancic later went on the TODAY show in December to say that the cancer was not completely cleared by those treatments and that she will <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/05/double-mastectomy-giuliana-rancic-breast-cancer_n_1129433.html" target="_hplink">undergo a double mastectomy</a>.
In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres aired last month, Wanda Sykes revealed that she had been <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/23/wanda-sykes-breast-cancer_n_977761.html#s312402&title=Wanda_Sykes" target="_hplink">diagnosed with breast cancer</a> and underwent a double mastectomy. "I had breast cancer. Yeah, I know it's scary," Sykes said in the interview. "This was in February. I went for the reduction. I had real big boobs and I just got tired of knocking over stuff. Every time I eat ... Oh lord. I'd carry a Tide stick everywhere I go. My back was sore so it was time to have a reduction." After the reduction, the pathology report found ductal carcinoma in situ in her left breast, which prompted Skykes, who has a <a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20531010,00.html" target="_hplink">family history of breast cancer</a>, to opt for a double mastectomy. And while the diagnosis is scary, she hasn't lost her <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/23/wanda-sykes-breast-cancer_n_977761.html#s312402&title=Wanda_Sykes" target="_hplink">signature humor</a>. "I was like, 'I don't know, should I talk about it or what?' How many things could I have? I'm black, then lesbian. I can't be the poster child for everything ... At least with the LGBT issues we get a parade, we get a float, it's a party. [But] I was real hesitant about doing this, because I hate walking. I got a lot of [cancer] walks coming up."
Elizabeth Edwards was first diagnosed with breast cancer just hours after her husband and presidential-hopeful John Kerry conceded their election -- she had originally noticed a lump in her breast during the campaign. She continued to fight the disease on and off until she passed away in December 2010, after learning that the cancer had spread to her liver. Her family asked that, in lieu of flowers, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/07/elizabeth-edwards-death-donations-wade-edwards-foundation_n_793464.html" target="_hplink">donations be made</a> to the <a href="http://www.wade.org/" target="_hplink">Wade Edwards Foundation</a>, which was founded in honor of Edwards' son, Wade, who died in a car crash at the age of 16.
In 2008, actress Christina Applegate shared in a "Good Morning America" interview that she had been <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=5606034&page=1" target="_hplink">dagnosed with breast cancer</a> at the age of 36 -- she also opted for a bilateral mastectomy instead of radiation or chemotherapy. "I didn't want to go back to the doctors every four months for testing and squishing and everything. I just wanted to kind of get rid of this whole thing for me. This was the choice that I made and it was a tough one," she said <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=5606034&page=1" target="_hplink">in the interview</a>. "Sometimes, you know, I cry. And sometimes I scream. And I get really angry. And I get really upset, you know, into wallowing in self-pity sometimes. And I think that it's all part of the healing." Perhaps the best healing of all came earlier this year when Applegate gave birth to baby Sadie with musician Martyn LeNoble. "She's healed me in so many ways. She's just made my life so much better. I've been kind of sad for a long time, and she's just opened my whole soul," Applegate <a href="http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20467525,00.html" target="_hplink">told <em>People</em></a> in an exclusive interview this past February.
In 2005, rock-and-roll artist Etheridge underwent a lumpectomy and five rounds of chemotherapy and radiation to eradicate her breast cancer. "I had been running along in my life at a fast pace. When I heard it was cancer, I just stood still," Etheridge told <em>Shape</em> magazine in a 2009 interview. "My life passed over me like a big wave, and after, I was left there standing. This turned out to be a very good thing. I stopped. I looked at my life, I looked at my body and spirit." In the midst of her treatment, Etheridge found out she was <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6994469/ns/dateline_nbc/t/melissa-etheridges-brave-comeback/" target="_hplink">nominated for a Grammy</a> for her song "Breathe" -- and while she wasn't sure she'd make an appearance at first, Etheridge ultimately decided not only to attend, but to perform in a Janis Joplin tribute. Taking to the stage bald and with no eyebrows from chemo, she belted out Joplin's classic, "Piece Of My Heart." "It was very special that I had been presented with a day, that I could come back into this entertainment world, and show everyone that you are back and okay, and thought, okay," Etheridge told <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6994469/ns/dateline_nbc/t/melissa-etheridges-brave-comeback/" target="_hplink">MSNBC at the time</a>. "I'm going to do this. And I'm not gonna be afraid of the truth. The truth is, yes I had cancer. Yes, I got it out of me. Yes, I went through chemotherapy. Yes, I'm bald." Check out Etheridge's breast cancer causes on her <a href="http://www.melissaetheridge.com/pinkpage" target="_hplink">Pink Rage website</a>.
ABC's "Good Morning America" host Robin Roberts was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. "I never thought I'd be writing this. ... <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/CancerPreventionAndTreatment/abcs-robin-roberts-breast-cancer/story?id=3430554" target="_hplink">I have breast cancer</a>," she said in a message released by ABC in August 2007. While working on a tribute to her colleague Joel Siegel, who had died from cancer, Robins reported on how key early detection is -- and, taking her own advice, she did a self breast exam and found a lump. "Much as I was hoping the doctor would say it was nothing, she did a biopsy and confirmed that the lump I'd found was indeed an early form of breast cancer," Robins <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/CancerPreventionAndTreatment/abcs-robin-roberts-breast-cancer/story?id=3430554" target="_hplink">continued in her statement</a>. Robins underwent a partial mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. In 2008, she told <em>People</em> magazine that she <a href="http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20238177,00.html" target="_hplink">complemented her regular doctor's visits</a> with acupuncture, exercise and advice from a nutritionist. "Yes, I am living with cancer," she <a href="http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20238177,00.html" target="_hplink">told <em>People</em></a>. "But don't go 'woe is me.' I don't want it. Don't need it. I'm still in the game. I don't want to say 'survivor.' I want to thrive."
Australian singer Minogue was first diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2005 and underwent surgery and chemotherapy treatment. "When you are stripped of everything and you have to grow your eyelashes back, grow your hair back, it's just astonishing," Minogue told British <em>Glamour</em> magazine. "It's hard to express what I've learned from that, but a deep psychological and emotional shift has obviously taken place." This open and honest approach to her diagnosis led Minogue to be voted the <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/09/03/us-cancer-celebrities-idUSTRE6820P120100903" target="_hplink">most inspirational breast cancer celebrity</a> in an online British-based poll, Reuters reports.
Singer Sheryl Crow was <a href="http://articles.cnn.com/2006-10-06/health/crow.cancer_1_breast-cancer-early-detection-cancer-patients?_s=PM:HEALTH" target="_hplink">diagnosed with breast cancer</a> in 2006 and, thanks to early detection, underwent a minimally invasive surgery and seven weeks of radiation therapy. Crow told <em>Health</em> magazine that <a href="http://www.health.com/health/article/0,,20411904_2,00.html" target="_hplink">she saw a nutritionist</a> when she was first diagnosed and began a diet full of fish, walnuts, colorful vegetables, fiber and healthy spices. "I kept my breast cancer tattoos -- where the radiation was lined up on my chest," Crow told <em>Health</em>. "Once in a while I look at it to remind myself that I have to put on my oxygen mask first before I put it on anybody else." Today, a cancer-free Crow is focused on spreading the message of early detection. In 2010, she <a href="http://content.usatoday.com/communities/entertainment/post/2010/08/sheryl-crow-opsns-breast-cancer-imaging-center-/1" target="_hplink">founded the Sheryl Crow Center</a> as part of the Pink Lotus Breast Center, which was founded by her own surgeon, ABC News reports.
In 2008, the "Sex and the City" star went public with her <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/04/15/cynthia-nixon-on-her-love_n_96749.html" target="_hplink">cancer diagnosis</a>, revealing that she found a lump in its early stages and had it removed through radiation, The Huffington Post reported at the time. Nixon wrote in a 2008 <em>Newsweek</em> article that her mother was <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2008/10/03/a-family-of-strong-women.html" target="_hplink">diagnosed with breast cancer twice</a> -- the first time, Nixon was just 13. "I feel like I have a very <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/03/slideshow_n_991609.html#s384104&title=Cynthia_Nixon" target="_hplink">concrete story to tell</a>. My story isn't just my story, it mine and my mother's story," the <a href="http://ww5.komen.org/" target="_hplink">Susan G. Komen for the Cure</a> spokesperson has said.