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Gene Analysis And Breast Cancer Clues

The first comprehensive genetic analysis of breast cancer is reshaping our understanding of the disease, pointing the way to a cure.  We’ll get the latest.

Mobile Breast cancer screening unit. (AP)

Mobile Breast cancer screening unit. (AP)

The more we learn about cancer, the more we understand that cancer means – is – many different things.  Breast cancer by all means included.

On Sunday, the first comprehensive genetic analysis of breast cancer was published in the journal Nature.  Part of the Cancer Genome Atlas.  Mapping the different genetic changes that can turn cells cancerous.  Knowing the map means tailoring treatment and maybe, one day, we all hope, a cure.

Breast cancer kills 35,000 women a year in the US.  Now we’ve got a map.

This hour, On Point:  reading the genetic map of breast cancer.

-Tom Ashbrook


Victoria Colliver, health reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle

Dr. Charles Perou, geneticist at the University of North Carolina. He is co-author of the genetic study. Findings are published online in the journal Nature.

Dr Judy Garber, breast oncologist and director of the Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times “‘This is the road map for how we might cure breast cancer in the future,’ said Dr. Matthew Ellis of Washington University, a researcher for the study.”

Nature “The integrated molecular analyses of breast carcinomas that we report here significantly extends our knowledge base to produce a comprehensive catalogue of likely genomic drivers of the most common breast cancer subtypes.”

San Francisco Chronicle “The finding that a form of breast cancer may be genetically similar to a type of ovarian cancer underscores a new way of thinking about cancer that moves away from defining cancers by the organ of origin.”

C Segment — Castration and Lifespan


Florian Maderspacher, senior editor at Current Biology

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Shag_Wevera

    I guess I’ll play wet blanket.

    Eggs are bad, egg cholesterol is good.  Take fish oil, benefits of fish oil statistically insignificant.  Alchohol is bad, red wine or dark beer are downright medicinal.  Chocolate is bad for you, have a little chocolate every day.  On and on and on…

    When you actually start curing cancer with whatever research you are working on, let me know.  I will be excited and relieved.  You will be showered with acolades and adoration.  You will become rich and be given awards.

    Until that time it is all un-hatched chickens and pie in the sky.

    • J__o__h__n

      So probably a good idea to wait a while before going ahead with the castration to live longer? 

  • Yar

    I just finished the Poisonwood Bible. It has only made me more skeptical about intentions of ‘good’ men.
    Like every advancement in technology, it is achieved on the backs of the poor and available only to the rich,  Pills, thousands of dollars each, counterfeited by crooks, and one can’t tell one crook from another by the end result.
    Women get the worst of it, forcing a round peg in a square hole that is purposely made to small.  No pain, no gain.  Who’s pain, who’s gain?  Men with all the answers to what a woman needs.  
    In the News of the day, “eunuchs live longer”. Attributing a longer life to what was lost instead of what was gained from a likely improvement in nutrition.  Cause and affect or caused effect?  Figures don’t lie, liars figure; or is it disfigure? Cut if off; it is for you own good; we have attempted to improve God’s work since Abraham’s plan to sacrifice of Issac.  Dad, where is the goat? Son, you are the goat. 

    What is cancer? An unregulated and unsustainable growth?  Where do we see that?  The televangelist media arm of cancer research tells us each week that a new cure is just around the corner. Send money today. 

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       You’re here using a computer.  That’s a piece of technology that used to be expensive and available to the few.  We all benefit from medical advances, and there are ways to get those treatments to everyone.  Just because America at the moment doesn’t do it does not mean that the technology is bad.

      • Yar

        Half of the world lives on less than 2 dollars per day. How many computers do they use?
        I didn’t say technology is bad. 
        I am for single payer health care.  I hate to see families lose the farm over a failed cancer treatment that only made the last months of their loved one’s life full of pain.  These families are the grist for the cancer profit mill.  They paid with their lives and their families possessions so some company can charge millions for a ‘cure’ that was learned by experimenting on those without other options.

  • AC

    i think it would be great if they found a cure for BC, then maybe some other diseases would get a little much needed research funding…

    • Call_Me_Missouri

      Though I get the sentiment of your post…  God knows there other more severe/deadly/aggressive cancers and diseases that need the funding more, IMHO.

      But, it should be clear that this study was funded by the Federal Government and Breast Cancer was not the first cancer they studied.

  • JGC

    The “gene analysis” part of the title is key.  Yesterday, NPR had a fascinating piece on progeria (the very rare early aging disease) and Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project and current head of the NIH.  The researchers were able to pinpoint the cause of progeria to a single mutation on one gene that causes a harmful protein to be generated, accelerating things like blood vessel destruction and heart disease.  And it turns out as we all age, we all are subjected to this same protein being manufactured, and in larger quantities as we advance in years. 

    There was also an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday,”Doctor to the 1% (and Maybe Someday to You)” by Joseph Rago, an interview with Leslie Michelson, the “CEO of Private Health Management, an ultra high-end company that borrows from concierge medicine, managed care, applied-science research and information technology….For an era of targeted therapies, Private Health runs a full battery of molecular diagnostics to sequence the entire three billion base pairs of somebody’s DNA in a couple of hours. The goal is to ensure an accurate diagnosis and lay out all the treatment options.”

    Gene analysis is where its at, Baby!  We are all going to be demanding this as part of the standard coverage in our future health care plans. 

    • Shag_Wevera

      ” We are all going to be demanding this as part of the standard coverage in our future health care plans.”

      I’m certain that insurance companies will be excited to have access to our genetic shortcomings.  I’ll bet employers would like to have that info as well.  I’m cynical enough to recognize the danger of profit motive and human nature when it comes to decoding our genes. 

  • Call_Me_Missouri

    Questions for your guests…

    Is it common for a cancel sample from a biopsy to be genetically tested?

    Where on the schedule of cancers to be analyzed is Malignant Melanoma Skin Cancer?

  • Gourdbanjo

    Tom, you keep trying to ask why cancer happens, and you’re not getting much of an answer. There’s so much research on cancer treatment and so little on what might be causing it. Please interview someone from the Environmental Working Group, which tries to identify toxic pesticides, personal products, etc. that could be causing cancer. Cancer treatment makes money for drug companies, but cancer prevention threatens chemical companies. Maybe that explains the silence on prevention.

  • Yar

    Ask your guest Florian Maderspacher if she is aware of epigenetics switches effect on honeybees?  A nurse bee has different genetic expression than a field bee.  Behavior cause and effect? or Genetic cause for behavior? 
    The problem for predetermined genetic expression is that the effect is reversible.   The more we know the less we understand.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/RSAY6MYKR4A3BTDZR6BTH4ZIUU the big L

    I had a step mother die in part from breast cancer. One thing right away I want to say is that this has every chance of being the next crazy expensive treatment heaped on families with a critically ill family member. Most patients and their families will try anything to keep their loved one alive, specially once they have reached their out of pocket max on insurance coverage. Is the government going to pay for the treatments like they did the funding? When is Ok to accept that the human attrition rate is 100%

    Curtis Jasa

    • TinaWrites

      I believe that it would be better for the government to invest in life instead of in wars that only bring back more of our young people in body bags or in need of major, lifetime health care intervention.  Can’t we be a formidable nation by being such a great place to spend our lives from birth thru death (hopefully in old age), that other nations want the same.  Conquering us wouldn’t do it, but imitating us would!  The specific thing the government would do for your family would be to keep the Medicare/Obamacare costs for her treatment within a range that IS do-able by regular families and individuals.  Part of that would include getting profit out of health insurance!  

  • MegKlare

    I was dianosed 2 weeks ago with ovarian cancer and had surgery last week.  My doctor is participating in a research study including targeted drug therapies.  (my tumors were preserved for study.)  What can I expect about these therapies and also genetic testing?

  • imjust Sayin

    This discussion is about women’s health, and even though this video is not directly related, okay – hardly related, I thought it was worth posting.


  • TinaWrites

    Hi, I’ve been treated for Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer for 8 years.  Since my tumors were estrogen dependent, I was treated with those types of drugs for a number of years.  Then they stopped working.  Now, I’ve been on various chemo drugs.  MY QUESTION IS:  WHAT IS MY GENETIC STATUS?  would an analysis of my genes still show the estrogen dependency?

      Thanks so much for your work!  Tom, thanks so much for your WONDERFULLY PHRASED QUESTIONS!!!

    • TinaWrites

      BTW, I am convinced that I got my cancer because:  1)  I may have had it in my family line (was it one great grandmother’s unknown cause of death?); 2)  I was given 3 times the dose of estrogen that menopausal women were given from when I was about 14 until I was about 28 for cystic, painful, weeping acne.  The dermatologist was at a major NYC university hospital.  This was cutting edge treatment, offered to me only because nothing else had helped, and the acne was widespread over my skin, not just on my face; it was painful, too; 3) I gave birth just a few months before I was 35, showering my body with estrogen.

      I’m so very fortunate that there is and grateful for the amazing scientific research that is going on!  The scary thing IS the expense!  I sometimes wake up at night and just cannot get back to sleep.  With my present health insurance status, this is do-able, but I fear for when my current situation stops and I have the expense of what will be the next stage for me (I won’t describe it).  For those people who are shouting, “you can’t make me buy it (health insurance)”, I think that my scared feelings might be close to your feelings about not being able to pay out one more penny in your budget.  But, for those people who just don’t “want to be told what to do”, PLEASE consider that you might get a diagnosis of a disease like this that has had lots of advances, and with health insurance, your life can be prolonged.  That I am alive 8 years after the diagnosis of metastatic cancer (Stage 4:  the last stage!), would not have been possible 10 years earlier!  There keep being new drugs for me to be on; one works, then stops working, but another new drug is there to try!  How long will this go on?  I’ll see; but the doctors manage my metastatic cancer as if it were a chronic disease!  That is such a different meme for CA mets than EVER BEFORE!  The ONLY way that major diseases of ANY kind can be afforded is thru a REALLY BIG, let’s say NATIONAL SIZE pool of people:  many people paying into the pot; but many people remaining healthy for much of their lives.  You ARE the lucky ones!  There are children born with expensive diseases:  the only way to help them is for a really big pool to create a really big pot that can then provide the “lift” for the child.  Can’t we think about Obamacare (even tho I’d prefer Single Payer) as a Big Community Outreach Program from which we sometimes have to get services, but which we may only pay into if we are FORTUNATE enough to not have the bad luck of bad genes, or bad genes goaded by certain life experiences, or an accident.

      As an aside, I think the President was correct to try to pass Obamacare as his first major task.  With it, people can at least try to start their own businesses even if corporate business is slow to bring back our jobs.  People need health insurance, and even a lot of regular jobs are no longer providing it for their employees.   

  • onpoint080

    Regarding filling out the billing information, isn’t that usually done by office staff?  What kind of communication is there between the doctor’s diagnosis, office time or treatment procedure and the person responsible for submitting the electronic forms?

    And, does the doctor really know which “dx numerical code” is needed?  There are hundreds.


  • J__o__h__n

    How long can you wait for the castration to get the longevity benefit?  To paraphrase St Augustine, I’d like to be a centenarian, but not yet.

  • Jason Hoffman

    They’ve been treating me for polyendocrine cancer for three years now, and I’ve just come to the conclusion that cancer is just the failure of evolution on a cellular level to keep up with the improvements in lifestyle that have begun to keep us alive longer.  Our bodies are not evolved to live forever, or possibly even as long as we’ve coerced them into doing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=744390844 Martha Hedberg Latta

    As a 1+ year breast cancer survivor, and someone who has lost immediate family members to other types of cancer, I applaud this research. Keep up the great work and continue forging ahead. 

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Patient:  Will eating healthy, getting plastic out of my life, walking everywhere, and generally having no fun make me live longer?

    Doctor:  No, but it will feel longer.

  • ying13

    Good to use these cancer specific genes for screening new anticancer drugs 

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

     Testosterone isn’t the only missing element, Tom Ashbrook.

  • Satwa

    Scientists and the media ignore published research if it doesn’t suit their paradigm:

    Scientific Research on Maharishi Ayurveda

    Research: Cancer
Study #1 
Antineoplastic Properties of Maharishi-4 [MAK-4] Against DMBA-Induced Mammary Tumors in Rats
Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, Vol. 35, pp. 767-773, 1990.

    Study #2
Antineoplastic Properties of Maharishi Amrit Kalash [MAK-5], An Ayurvedic Food Supplement, Against 7,12-Dimethylbenz(a)anthracene-Induced Mammary Tumors in Rats
Journal of Research and Education in Indian Medicine, Vol. 10, No. 3, pp. 1-8, July-September 1991.

    Study #3
Reduction of Metastases of Lewis Lung Carcinoma by an Ayurvedic Food Supplement [MAK-4] in Mice
Nutrition Research, Vol. 12, pp. 51-61, 1992.
    Study #4
Ayurvedic (Science of Life) Agents [MAK-4 and MAK-5] Induce Differentiation in Murine Neuroblastoma Cells in Culture
Neuropharmacology, Vol. 31, No. 6, pp. 599-607, 1992.

    Study #5
Anti-Tumor Effects of Natural Products Maharishi Amrit Kalash-4 (MAK-4) and Maharishi Amrit Kalash-5 (MAK-5) on Cell Transformation In Vitro and in Liver Carcinogenesis in Mice
    Presented at
Nineteenth Annual Convention of Indian Association for Cancer Research and Symposium on Cancer Biology, Amala Cancer Hospital and Research Center, Thrissur, India, January 21-23, 2000.

    Study #6
Antineoplastic Properties of Dietary Maharishi-4 [MAK-4] and Maharishi Amrit Kalash [MAK-5], Ayurvedic Food Supplements
European Journal of Pharmacology, Vol. 183, No. 2, p. 193, 1990 (Abstract).

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Wouldn’t the kings and warriors have had other factors in their lives that shortened the span?  What was the diet of the eunuch compared to the royal?  How often did the aristocracy die in warfare or palace intrigues?

  • printreader

    your guests are correct that cancer is much more complicated than the public realizes.  after i was diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer I read “Emperor of all Maladies” and was stunned at how little we knew even 20 years ago, how far we have come, but sadly, how little we still know.  I recommend the book.  I appreciate that environmental and life style choices contribute to cancer, but so many other things do too. 

  • Dadcat2

    Re: Castration and Lifespan
    (Please ignore this comment if irrelevant – I’m now at work, no longer listening to on-air program.) 

    Dr. Maderspacher indicated that a controlled experiment was not possible, due to ethical reasons. This is not quite right. In the United States alone, there are hundreds of thousands of eunuchs, although the term is “chemical castration” or “ADT” (androgen deprivation therapy), most usually for treatment of prostate cancer. Obviously this data set is confounded by comorbidities, but it is nonetheless surely one worth studying.

  • Dadcat2

    Re: Castration and Lifespan
    (Please ignore this comment if irrelevant – I’m now at work, no longer listening to on-air program.) 

    Dr. Maderspacher indicated that a controlled experiment was not possible, due to ethical reasons. This is not quite right. In the United States alone, there are hundreds of thousands of eunuchs, although the term used is “chemical castration” or “ADT” (androgen deprivation therapy). Almost all these men are being treated for prostate cancer and have levels of testosterone that are as low as eunuchs’, or lower. 

    Obviously a data set composed of men with a certain illness is confounded by comorbidities, but it is nonetheless surely one worth studying.

  • Kenneth Rubenstein

    I’m afraid there’s more hype here than hope. This kind of research has so far shown very little in the way of results or even promise. The BIG question about these genetic  variations is whether they are a cause or effect of the disease. Right now most of them appear to be the latter, and researchers are still searching for causative variations. 

    Since On Point comes from Boston, I suggest you present views of Drs. Ana Soto or Carlos Sonnenschein from Tufts for an exciting alternative hypothesis of carcinogenesis.

  • Mike_Card

    This is–yawn–interesting, but the science involving BC is such a very thin slice; you’d almost think BC is the equivalent of AIDS.  And it isn’t.  Allowing callers to describe themselves as one or two-year survivors does nobody any good; you aren’t a “survivor” until your 5-year threshold.  No disrespect, but those are the statistics.

    Most of what we’ve learned is that there is a vast forest of unsolved afflictions called “cancer,” even though there is precious little evidence of their being the same disease.  That notion has supported the expenditure of hundreds of billions of $ in search of the silver bullet–interferon, anyone?

    I applaud all the smart, dedicated scientists who are attacking these killing diseases.  But the cancer industry–Susan G. Komen, are you listening?–does no one any favors with their self-serving  marketing, nor their piggy-backing on serious science.

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