Therapies with less side effects to prevent and or treat breast cancer
We have known for over 300 years that childbearing protects against breast cancer, but the reasons are not clear.
A woman’s reproductive history is a strong risk factor for breast cancer; women who do not bear children or who have them at an older age are at an increased risk of developing the disease. This is alarming given the global reproductive trend of women bearing fewer children. Societal changes have meant that the age at which women are having their first baby is also increasing.
It’s not possible to dictate when women should have children just to decrease their breast cancer risk, but there is potential to develop therapies aimed to mirror this protection if we understand how pregnancies protect the breast against cancer development.
Currently Tamoxifen is the most frequently prescribed treatment for the treatment of existing breast cancers and has resulted in a 50 per cent fall in the death of breast cancer patients in the last 30 years. Tamoxifen is also used in the preventative setting as it can reduce the risk of estrogen positive benign and invasive breast cancers in high risk women (those with a family history).
However, Tamoxifen has numerous toxicities, including increased risk of thromboembolism, endometrial cancer, hot flushes and vaginal symptoms. It has a low compliance rate, with only 50 per cent of patients adhering by the full treatment, meaning preventative strategies with fewer side effects are needed.
Dr Kara Britt believes that a protein that is increased in the breast tissue of individuals who have borne children may be responsible for the protective effects of pregnancy and childbearing.
The study will focus on testing whether this protein, when given to mice, can inhibit breast cancer development, or slow the growth of tumours. This will allow Dr Britt and her team to determine if it should be considered for clinical use as a preventative for high risk women.