A new federally funded study of the DNA of breast cancer cells could eventually provide a breakthrough in treating the disease that affects thousands of women each year.
Research published in the Sunday journal of Nature revealed there are four major types of breast cancer, which all respond to different treatments.
The study results suggested some drugs already used to treat other cancers could possibly be used to treat certain forms of breast cancer that share the same genetic abnormalities.
"We now understand the recoding of the genome that is behind (these cancers)," said study researcher Dr. Matthew Ellis, a professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis.
"(This) lays the foundation for a new and much more informed approach to developing cures for all our patients," he added.
Researchers hope identifying the types of breast cancer will now help them discover which drugs work best for each specific type of tumor.
But the scientists note that it could take years to effectively learn how to use the new information to treat breast cancer.