A new test that identifies seven distinct types of breast cancer could be available within two years, offering hope of personalised treatments to women with the disease, British scientists say.
A team led by Andy Green of the University of Nottingham has developed a method that screens for 10 key proteins that identify seven different biological types of breast cancer.
The technology needed to measure the proteins in tumour samples already exists in most pathology laboratories across the UK, Green said.
Currently just two proteins are routinely identified in breast cancer cells. One is the oestrogen receptor (ER) that makes a tumour hormone-sensitive and the other is HER2, which is responsive to the breast cancer drug Herceptin.
Last year researchers found that breast cancer can be divided into 10 different forms of the disease based on a patient's genetic make-up.
However, these can only be identified using detailed genetic profiling, which is costly and impractical for most patients.
In the new study, researchers looked for the "signature" of each class of cancer in 1,073 tumour samples from a tissue bank.
They found that 93 per cent fitted well into one of seven classes, while the remaining 7 per cent were harder to categorise, 'BBC News' reported.
Further verification found that the seven classes are defined by different combinations and levels of 10 proteins found in breast cancer cells.
They include the two routinely identified proteins in breast cancer cells, the oestrogen receptor (ER) and HER2, as well as others not currently tested, such as p53, cytokeratins, HER3 and HER4a.
"We need to ensure the life-saving and life-extending treatments we already have in the clinic are used more effectively, directing the right treatments to those who will benefit, and sparing others from unnecessary side effects, so that by 2050 we can achieve our ambition to overcome breast cancer," said Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of the Breast Cancer Campaign, which funded the study.