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Monthly Breast Cancer Research Update – June 2016

June 27th, 2016

In June we saw some interesting findings in breast cancer research, particularly in the area of triple negative breast cancer which is often more aggressive and harder to treat effectively. Australian researchers have also discovered that using an existing treatment for bones could help prevent breast cancer in genetically high risk women.

Researchers identify novel treatment for aggressive form of breast cancer

The most successful treatments for breast cancer target hormone receptors; if you remove the hormone or block it, the cancer cells are less likely to survive. But triple-negative tumours are so far unresponsive to receptor-targeted treatments. However, a team of US researchers have recently found that two-thirds of triple-negative breast cancers express vitamin D, and have successfully used a combination vitamin D and androgen receptor-targeted therapy. The discovery offers a new treatment option beyond chemotherapy for this aggressive type of breast cancer.

NBCF note: In 2012 NBCF funded an innovative project that looked at the effects of treating bone metastasis with a combination treatment including vitamin E derivatives, to deliver the vitamin directly into the bone to keep them strong. This promising research is ongoing, working towards clinical trials.

New research provides hope for patients with hard-to-treat breast cancer

Cancer Research UK scientists have found a new way to slow the growth of the most aggressive type of breast cancer, according to research published in the journal Oncogene. The team from Oxford University and the University of Nottingham found that using a drug called JQ1 can alter how cancer cells respond to hypoxia – or low oxygen – found in more than 50 per cent of breast tumours overall and most commonly in triple negative breast cancer, the form of the disease that is hardest to treat. JQ1 works by stopping cancer cells adapting to the lack of oxygen. The study results showed that JQ1 slowed tumour growth and limited the number of blood vessels that were produced.

Note:   When a patient’s breast cancer is starved of oxygen it can be much more difficult to treat successfully. That’s because the way cancer cells adapt to low oxygen changes their biology and makes them resistant to standard therapies. When there are low levels of oxygen, tumour cells turn on specific genes which send signals for new blood vessels to supply them with fresh oxygen, giving cancer the nutrients it needs to grow and spread.

‘Holy grail’ of breast cancer prevention in high-risk women may be in sight

Australian researchers have discovered that a medication used to treat osteoporosis and bone metastasis could have promise in preventing breast cancer in women carrying a faulty BRCA1 gene. By pinpointing the cells that give rise to breast cancers in women who have inherited a faulty version of the BRCA1 gene, NBCF-funded Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researchers have identified that the drug denosumab may provide a non-surgical option to prevent breast cancer in women at higher genetic risk.

Cancer breakthrough? Novel insight into metastasis could offer new treatments

Researchers from the United Kingdom may have made a breakthrough in cancer treatment, after discovering an unusual mechanism by which cancer cells spread and survive in the body. They found that ‘integrins’ – proteins on the surface of a cell that bind and communicate with its surroundings – play an important role in the survival of cancer cells after they detach from a primary tumour. Their short video clearly shows and explains how metastasis occurs.