Monthly Breast Cancer Research Update – August 2016August 29th, 2016
August was an interesting month for breast cancer research! Multiple studies revealed what genetic and DNA testing can tell us about breast cancer prevention and treatment. We learned that tumours can be made up of different types of cancer cells, and researchers are still trying to understand the implications of dense breast tissue.
NBCF-funded researcher Dr Jennifer Stone is launching a pilot into breast density among young women in the hope of reducing cancer risk later in life. Increased breast density is one of the strongest predictors of breast cancer risk in older women, however not much is known about it in younger populations. Dr Stone says identifying factors linked to breast density could help inform primary prevention strategies against cancer and assist in early detection.
There’s yet another reason to maintain a healthy weight as we age. An international team of researchers has identified eight additional types of cancer linked to excess weight and obesity, bringing the total cancers driven by obesity to 13, including breast cancer. Limiting weight gain over the decades could help to reduce the risk of these cancers, the data suggest.
A genetic test could mean nearly half of women (46 per cent) with early-stage breast cancer who are at high clinical risk of the cancer returning may not require chemo, according to one of the largest and most robust studies of genetic testing published.
Testing for the activity of two genes could help doctors identify women at an increased risk of dying from breast cancer, UK research suggests. Women whose tumours displayed a specific activity pattern were three times more likely to die within 10 years than those with a different pattern. “This new study helps us understand some of the processes that control how breast cancers spread, and identifies a pattern of genetic activity that could be used to pick out women particularly at risk,” said Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, London.
NBCF note: NBCF-funded researcher Professor Ian Campbell is also working toward better understanding of the risk of breast cancer. The familial breast cancer genes BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 account for only two per cent of all breast cancer genes, and Prof Campbell has identified 40 more genes for which could also show a genetic predisposition to breast cancer. He will sequence each gene to try and identify the genetic causes for familial breast cancer which may provide significant opportunities for primary and secondary prevention of breast cancer, as well as improving risk assessment, genetic counselling and management for individuals in high-risk breast cancer families.
Not only is breast cancer more than one disease, but a single breast cancer tumour can have different characteristics, such as fast or slow growing cells. Usually, a single section of a tumour is tested to determine if the tumour is aggressive or not, or if it has a high risk of recurrence, and this strongly influences the treatment plan for the patient. However, new research shows that cells in the same tumour mass could be growing at different rates, and testing more tumour samples could result in a more complete picture and appropriate treatment plan.
Patients battling advanced breast cancer could be spared needless treatments with a clever DNA-based technique that uses personalised blood tests to closely monitor tumours. “It could provide faster feedback to patients and doctors, so that minimal time is wasted on treatments that aren’t working,” said Professor Parry Guilford from Otago University, who has so far studied the method’s potential in colon cancer treatment.