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Scientists just took a huge leap forward in understanding breast cancer’s causes

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Photo: Stocksy/Per Swantesson

Considering that breast cancer is the most-diagnosed form of cancer for women, you’ve likely come into contact with it through a friend, family member, or even yourself. But, at least there has been some good news lately: Earlier this month, a study found that fewer women are dying from the illness than ever before. And now, CNN reports that scientists have taken a huge step forward in understanding the genetic causes of the disease.

Researchers found 72 previously unknown genetic mutations that can lead to breast cancer, making the number of known cancer-causing variants almost 180.

Researchers from 300 institutions worked together to find 72 previously unknown genetic mutations that can lead to breast cancer.

Using a large sample size—including blood samples from nearly 300,000 women—the researchers were able to look through and pick out mutations that were reoccurring in women with breast cancer. With the 72 new mutations, the number of known cancer-causing variants increased to almost 180.

So how will this affect women? “Taken together, these risk variants may identify a small proportion of women who are at three-times increased risk of breast cancer,” professor Peter Kraft of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a study author, tells CNN. In other words, with early screening and treatment, this new development could save lives.

Even though this study is large and expansive, it’s important to note that the women who partook were largely of European descent, meaning there may be variants and factors that are not accounted for.

While this isn’t a cure, it’s still one step closer to identifying and possibly eradicating a type of cancer that affects millions of women every year.

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month—read up on everything you need to know about the disease and how you can help out by purchasing a (very expensive) water bottle.