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Video: New hope for targeting breast cancer

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    >>> now what could be a major breakthrough in the fight against breast cancer . scientists have mapped all the genetic mutations in an effort to lead to more effective treatments. dr. nancy snyderman is nbc's chief medical editor. good morning to you.

    >> good morning.

    >> the catalog identified the mutations in common cancers. what is the bottom line and why does this matter?

    >> four basic kinds of cancers and they dug deeper and found genetic switches that make cancers worse than others, linked one to ovarian cancer and that could change treatment. underscoring all of this, it took thousands of scientists with 800 women volunteering to give up their tissue, and they shared information. it shows you just can't throw money at things, can't hide in your own little laboratory. unless we share information we won't get breakthroughs. so increasingly your breast tumor, my breast tumor may look the same on an x-ray but genetically they may be very, very different. the sooner we can understand, the sooner we can tailor treatment for me, treatment for you.

    >> one of the breast cancer tumors shared more similarities with ovarian cancer , us a mentioned.

    >> yeah.

    >> does this mean it may be the place where you find the tumor isn't as important as where its origins are, the genetic origins.

    >> maybe beyond that. okay. what's the common switch that turns on a tumor, and are there drugs that we're used to go treat lung or ovarian cancer that might be useful for breast cancer ? some of the treatments that we know that really knock women off their feet, maybe they are going to be increasingly obsolete. one of the authors said this is like getting someone to the moon. i think it's a better rocket. we haven't gone to the moon yet. you get to say that when we cure breast cancer , but it's a huge step forward.

    >> doing the study perhaps is the moon shot . dr. nancy snyderman , thank you so much.

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updated 9/23/2012 9:51:13 PM ET 2012-09-24T01:51:13

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.

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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.

Video: Study eyes the genetics of breast cancer (on this page)

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.

More women's health news:

Is it cancer? 5 symptoms women ignore

IUDs, implants best for birth control — teens, too

Sleep apnea in pregnancy may harm mom, baby

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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