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Osteoporosis treatment may reduce breast cancer recurrence and metastasis, study finds

September 26th, 2016

In normal conditions, the RANK signalling pathway works to promote the development of the mammary gland in response to signals provided by female sex hormones, such as progesterone.

This usually happens in all women during their menstrual cycles and during pregnancy, but if the RANK signalling becomes abnormal, the breast cells start reproducing rapidly when they are not supposed to, eventually leading to breast cancer.

The expression of RANK in human cancers is linked with reduced survival. This study has found that therapies called RANK inhibitors could be used to prevent cancer progression. Importantly, some RANKL inhibitors are already approved for treating bone related diseases, osteoporosis, and bone metastasis, and may quickly become available for patients with advanced breast cancer.

NBCF-funded researcher Professor Geoff Lindeman from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute is looking at the RANKL pathway and bone disease treatment, specifically for high-risk women with the faulty BRCA1 gene. His team showed that the RANK inhibition treatment switched off cell growth in breast tissue from women with a faulty BRCA1 gene and stopped breast cancer development in laboratory models.

“We think this strategy could delay or prevent breast cancer in women with an inherited BRCA1 gene mutation,” Professor Lindeman said. “A clinical trial has already begun to investigate this further.”

Another NBCF-funded researcher Dr Sabashini Ramchand is also looking at the bone disease treatment, although from a different angle. Her project is investigating whether it could be given to younger women with breast cancer on aromatase inhibitor treatment, which is known to weaken bone strength. This project aims to lead to improved treatment and quality of life for young women with breast cancer.