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New Breast Cancer Treatments: Immunotherapy & Personalised Medicine

With the help of scientific research, a number of new treatment options are currently being developed to improve treatment effectiveness and reduce potential side effects. These include new approaches to treat advanced breast cancer, harnessing the patient’s immune system to fight cancer (immunotherapy) and personalising cancer treatment. Learn more about these different treatment approaches and the related NBCF research projects below.

Immunotherapy in breast cancer

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight against cancer. Immunotherapy may slow the growth and spread of cancer by helping the immune system destroy existing cancer cells. Rarely, immunotherapies may also cause other severe, potentially life-threatening reactions.


In Australia, immunotherapies have been approved for some cancers (such as melanoma and lung cancer) but not yet for breast cancer. However, immunotherapies are currently being tested in clinical trials (research studies where people volunteer to test new treatments) for breast cancer in Australia. This includes two groundbreaking clinical trials (called CHARIOT and DIAmOND) from NBCF-funded researcher and Endowed Chair, Professor Sherene Loi. These trials will hopefully lead to regulatory approval and ultimately, impact the future of breast cancer treatment.

Towards personalised medicine

Personalised medicine (also referred to as precision medicine) refers to a treatment approach where cancer treatment is tailored to an individual patient, using information such as the tumour’s molecular makeup, size, and spread, as well as the patient’s genes. The goal is for doctors to make optimal treatment choices to maximise effectiveness and avoid side effects, using a customised rather than ‘one-size-fits-all’ treatment approach, leading to fewer deaths and better quality of life for those diagnosed.


However, the success of personalised medicine depends on being able to identify the right treatment for the right person at the right time. This is a great challenge, as breast cancers can vary genetically and biologically from one another; even the same cancer can change over time within the same patient. Therefore, there is an urgent need to identify biological features (or ‘biomarkers’) that can distinguish different patient groups from one another and predict their response to treatment.