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Monthly Breast Cancer Research Update – November 2016

November 29th, 2016

During November, breast cancer researcher around the world and in Australia have been progressing our knowledge about this complex disease. This month, we saw important results in the areas of survivor fear of recurrence, why triple negative breast cancer grows faster and more aggressively than other breast cancers, the importance of exercise, and how tears could help diagnose breast cancer.

Fear: Approximately four in 10 cancer survivors are living in significant fear of their cancer returning. As well as being extremely distressing, it can have a range of health and cost implications. Some patients react by frequently checking for new lumps and bumps and constantly visiting the doctor seeking reassurance, while others avoid check-ups all together. At the breast cancer conference (COSA) last week, Professor Jane Turner, from The University of Queensland, outlined the results of the NBCF- co-funded Conquer Fear Trial, which involves new model of psychological support, survivors who completed the therapy experienced a 22 per cent reduction in their fear.

Triple negative: Professor Robert Baxter was funded by NBCF in 1997 to investigate triple negative breast cancer. During two decades of research, Professor Baxter and his team discovered a protein called IGFBP-3, which stands for insulin-like growth factor-binding protein 3. It makes triple negative breast cancer grow faster than others and more resistant to treatment.

His team has found that by using a combination of drugs already on the market to block the pathway stimulated by IGFBP-3, the cancer’s growth can be slowed and sensitised to chemotherapy. They have already conducted pre-clinical trials which combine two existing drugs. “Neither drug works effectively on its own, but together they appear to be extremely effective in stopping the growth of triple negative breast cancer,” says Professor Baxter.

Subject to further funding, Professor Baxter and his team will be ready to conduct clinical trials as early as 2017. Great to see that NBCF funding has helped move this this important area of research forward and we look forward to following the results of the trial.

Exercise: Dr Melinda Irwin, Professor of Epidemiology from Yale University, is an international expert in weight loss and cancer survival. Her study found that 66% of breast cancer survivors were overweight and obese, and only one in three were meeting physical activity guidelines. She says that emerging research is showing the importance of maintaining a healthy weight after cancer treatment. “My research has suggested that losing weight can actually change biological markers in the breast tissue of women with breast cancer and may reduce the risk of recurrence,” says Dr Irwin.

NBCF note: NBCF-funded researcher Dr Brigid Lynch says, “There can be many reasons why women who have had breast cancer might avoid extra physical activity, such as having low fitness levels or feeling fatigued easily. Knowing this, we still want to encourage them to get out and about as often as possible to optimise health outcomes.” Her research project includes a trial of Fitbits to encourage women to reach their exercise goals and gather important data for evidence-based exercise recommendations for women recovering from breast cancer.

Early detection & screening: NZ researchers are investigating whether proteins in tears could indicate which women have breast cancer, which if successful could be a non-invasive early detection technique. In a different method currently being trialled for prostate cancer, harmless microbubbles are injected in to the area which helps to locate the location of the tumour without radiation or squeezing, a method that could work well for breast cancer detection.