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BRCA breast cancer treatment could help even more people

March 28th, 2017

Women with an inherited fault in their BRCA genes account for less than five per cent of breast cancer cases, and a promising class of drugs – called PARP inhibitors – are currently in clinical trials that would specifically treat these tumours.

This treatment is being awaited with hot anticipation by women and men with breast cancer that results from a fault in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, as these cancers are often an aggressive sub-type called triple negative breast cancer which is especially hard to treat. In fact chemotherapy is the only treatment for triple negative breast cancer and it’s not always effective. So for BRCA carriers this new treatment can’t come soon enough.

But it mightn’t be only women and men with BRCA mutations that could benefit from this new treatment.

A new study that harnesses the power of genetic analysis has shown that many breast cancer gene mutations look exactly like those the inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations – a finding that could make a life-changing difference in breast cancer treatment of the future.

About the study

An exciting finding from a UK study has shown that a lot more breast cancers are genetically similar to tumours caused by inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations than previously realised, even though the mutations were not inherited.

The research team analysed the breast cancer genomes of 560 patients and discovered that many breast cancer patients had the same genetic mutation and identical gene signature in their tumour.

In theory that means that the PARP inhibitors could also be used for roughly 20 per cent breast cancer patients, not just those with BRCA mutations.

The future

It’s important to note that these are very early findings and they need to be tested with a clinical trial. However, there is a rising trend of researchers who are seeking ways to more effectively use existing treatments for different types of cancer and across other disease areas – all hoping to save more lives.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation funds many research projects relating to genetics and the BRCA genes which are all working to better understand how breast cancer starts and how it can be prevented or treated.