Researchers from across the UK have discovered a way to establish which women have the most aggressive forms of breast cancer, a development which could help save thousands of lives.

The research team, made up of scientists from Cardiff University’s European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute, the Institute of Cancer Research and King’s College London, claim that the answer to spotting early signs of breast cancer lies in how closely breast cancer cells resemble stem cells.

Scientists have cross-referenced normal stem cell genes with genetic profiles of tumours of women with ‘triple negative’ breast cancer, a particularly difficult form of cancer to treat.

The tumour samples were then split into two categories based on their resemblance to stem cells. Researchers found that the breast cancer cells which most closely resembled stem cells were more likely to spread to other parts of the body, due to the cells’ ability to grow and spread, and patients were most at risk of suffering a relapse.

Examining breast cancer cells and their likeness to stem cells could mark a major breakthrough in breast cancer treatments. Identifying which women are most likely to suffer a relapse, and ensuring that high-risk patients with ‘triple negative’ tumours receive closer monitoring and intensive or extended treatment, means a patient’s chances of recovering from the disease could be greatly improved.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. According to Cancer Research UK, almost 50,000 women are diagnosed with the disease each year.

Corrina Mottram, a clinical negligence solicitor based in Thompsons Solicitors’ Chelmsford office, said: “By better understanding the way breast cancer tumour cells behave, scientists, and medical professionals, could help to ensure that the most vulnerable patients receive the most appropriate treatment and regular monitoring.

“Early diagnosis and the most appropriate treatment for cancer can make a huge difference to the prognosis of a patient. The introduction of a more personalised treatment based on the genetic make-up of a person’s tumour could help to give patients the best chance of recovery.

“The prospect of developing a genetic test which could help identify the likelihood of a patient’s cancer spreading is a potentially ground-breaking discovery which could save thousands of lives.”