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Monthly Breast Cancer Research Update – March 2016

April 4th, 2016

During March breast cancer research saw some interesting advancements in our knowledge about the impact of stress on breast cancer spread, the effects of combination treatments, and the differences between men’s and women’s breast cancers.

Chronic stress enhances cancer spread

Although stress can cause a number of physical health problems, there is scant evidence that it can actually cause cancer. However, NBCF-funded researcher Dr Erica Sloan has discovered that stress can contribute to existing cancers spreading to other parts of the body, which significantly reduces women’s survival outlook.

Understandably, people living with cancer may find the physical, emotional, and social effects of the disease stressful. Dr Sloan has found that stress acts as a ‘fertiliser’ for tumours, helping them spread through the body’s lymphatic system.

Drug combination shrinks HER2 positive breast cancers within 11 days

The results of a small clinical trial, has shown that combining two existing drugs before surgery can shrink and may even destroy tumours in women with HER2 positive breast cancer – within 11 days. 15 per cent of breast cancers are HER2 positive.  Although exciting, large-scale trials are needed to validate the findings.

Drug combination slows breast cancer spread

A combination of two drugs has been found to delay progression of advanced, aggressive breast cancer by an average of nine months – and it works in all subsets of the most common type of breast cancer.

The combination slowed cancer growth in around two thirds of women with advanced forms of the most common type of breast cancer – allowing them to delay the start of chemotherapy, which is the traditional treatment option in these patients once hormone drugs have stopped working.

NBCF note: Dr Paul Beavis from the Peter Mac Cancer Centre is also looking at different combinations of existing treatments to get better outcomes for women – particularly those with the worst overall prognosis, triple negative breast cancer. He’s investigating a combination that includes drugs being used for other diseases, an immunosuppressant and radiotherapy treatment, aiming to enhance the immune system’s ability to recognise and eliminate the tumour.

Major differences between male and female breast cancers uncovered

New research has now uncovered some of the biological differences between the male and female breast cancer, which could help doctors to make better treatment choices for men with breast cancer. Men with breast cancer have been treated in the same way as women, but now after studying over 1000 cases, it is becoming clear that that this isn’t necessarily what’s best for them.

‘Silencer molecules’ switch off cancer’s ability to spread around body

Understanding how tumours spread throughout the body remains the biggest unknown in cancer research, however, UK scientists may be a step closer to solving the mystery. They have revealed that a key molecule in breast cancer cells can help switch off the cancers’ ability to spread around the body.

Professor Justin Stebbing from the Imperial College London said, “The ability of a cancer to spread around the body has a large impact on a patient’s survival. At the moment we are still in the dark about why some cancers spread around the body – while others stay in one place.

The discovery that the silencer molecule is important in the spread of cancer may help scientists develop treatments that prevent cancer travelling around the body – or develop a test that allows doctors to gauge how likely a cancer is to spread.