A major breakthrough in breast cancer research is promising better treatments for millions of women that could save countless lives while changing the current understanding of tumors.
Though the treatments are still years away, researchers and doctors say the shift in focus will help them treat tumors based on their type instead of where they are located in the body and lead to drugs that target a tumor's specific genetic code.
"To say I've been a breast cancer survivor for 24 years -- it feels so good," Denise Blumberg-Tendle, with Susan G. Komen Minnesota, told FOX 9 News.
A lot has changed since Blumberg-Tendle beat breast cancer more than two decades ago. Detection and treatment methods have both improved, and she's gone from an early Twin Cities Race for the Cure participant to an employee with the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which puts millions toward research each year.
"Every day, every week, the reason that we do what we do is for big moments like today," she said.
This latest milestone in research was published on Sunday in the Journal Nature. Like in most scientific publications, the headline isn't particularly compelling -- but the study it describes, partially funded by Komen -- is groundbreaking.
"It's unbelievable. It gives people hope," Blumberg-Tendle said. "It will give women and men that are diagnosed with breast cancer hope."
The study examined a genetic sequencing of tumors from 825 women, and it found four distinct types of breast cancer. One of them, known as the triple negative, is actually more similar to ovarian cancer, which means it can be treated with far less debilitating therapies.
"We want the same outcomes with less side effects," explained Dr. Anne Blaes, at the University of Minnesota.
Blaes explained that the study does much more than help doctors avoid treatments they know won't work. Now, new medicines can be developed to target the specific genetic codes of the tumors.
"I think it's really exciting," she said. "This is where we want cancer therapies to go so that we can give people treatments that are going to work and have fewer side effects."
Blaes says the research has the potential to improve the quality of life during treatment, and even in the short term, cancer patients can expect a number of new clinical trials to emerge.
The research is part of a huge federal project called the Cancer Genome Atlas. Researchers are conducting the same kind of genetic mapping on all types of cancers.