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Highly Accessed Editorial

Challenges in studying the etiology of breast cancer subtypes

Melissa A Troester12* and Theresa Swift-Scanlan23

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA

2 Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA

3 School of Nursing, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA

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Breast Cancer Research 2009, 11:104  doi:10.1186/bcr2323


See related research by Kwan et al., http://breast-cancer-research.com/content/11/3/R31

Published: 29 June 2009

Abstract

Research that classifies breast tumors into homogenous subgroups could ultimately help to define public health prevention strategies for aggressive breast cancer subtypes. However, etiologic research on molecular breast cancer subtypes must overcome several challenges. Stratifying breast cancers into subgroups can reduce statistical power and, therefore, may require non-traditional analytical methods. Integrating results across studies is hampered by varying definitions of molecular subtypes, with some studies using triple negative status and others using specific markers to define basal-like cancers. In addition, triple negative and basal-like breast cancers appear to show strong associations with race, so the varied racial and ethnic composition of different datasets can make comparison across studies challenging. In spite of these challenges, some strong and consistent associations between triple negative or basal-like breast cancer and demographic variables are emerging, and there are hints that prevention strategies for this aggressive subtype of breast cancer may also be attainable.