Researchers classify breast cancer into 12 distinct biological groups, say will greatly aid future research efforts


Washington: Researchers at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center have developed a classification method that divides breast cancer into 12 different biological groups.

The study is published in the ‘Journal of Cell Genomics’. “We have known for a long time that breast cancer is not a disease, and now through years of molecular research, added to decades of pathology knowledge, we have begun to integrate the two into one language,” Charles Perro, PhD, co-director of the UNC Lineberger Breast Cancer Research Program, May Goldman Shaw Distinguished Professor of Molecular Oncology and corresponding author of the research.

“This should greatly aid future research efforts and enable rapid translation of molecular findings to the pathology lab for clinical use,” he said.

The World Health Organization has long classified breast tumors into several types based on the unique size, structure and shape of the tumor cell. The most common type of breast cancer is defined as invasive ductal breast carcinoma; It is responsible for 70 percent to 80 percent of all breast cancers. While this major type of breast cancer was of interest to researchers, it was the rarer type that offered the most opportunity for new discoveries in this study.

TCGA’s more than 10,000 tissue stores from 33 different types of cancer allowed investigators to detect previously known, but rare, breast malformations. However, it was a challenge to obtain sufficient numbers of samples to adequately study the rare types and subtypes of cancer. But the TCGA breast cancer team, led by Pero, was able to obtain enough samples for at least six rare breast cancer subtypes, each with interesting and unique molecular features.

Of particular note were the rare metaplastic carcinomas, a breast cancer subtype with a poor clinical prognosis. Comparing the entire TCGA set of 10,000 tumors, the researchers found that some metaplastic cancers were closely related to melanoma, which are aggressive skin cancers, and to sarcomas, which are commonly found in bone and connective tissue.

“Our effort complements all of the planned analyzes on TCGA, which has been a major undertaking,” said Atish Thevan, a PhD graduate student in Perou’s lab and first author of the article.

“In our study, we validated our findings with other datasets that also contained rare subtypes. We would urge future studies to include rare subtypes so that we can build on this fundamental analysis.”

For their next efforts, the researchers plan to delve deeper into the molecular characteristics and cellular origins of metaplastic breast cancer. They are also interested in why some of the 12 biological groups show evidence of immune cells capable of infiltrating tumor cells, and why others do not have this immune infiltration. This line of research has therapeutic implications because there are treatments that have been developed that target immune cells in breast cancer. (ANI)

First published:December 14, 2021, 6 am

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