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Drugs hope to spare women breast surgery

Friday March 28th, 2014

Women with the breast cancer gene BRCA1 might be treated with drugs rather than surgery in the future, researchers say today.

The researchers in Belfast, UK, say they have found the first "credible" link between the gene and damage caused by high levels of the hormone oestrogen.

The gene is linked to breast and ovarian cancer while a range of treatments already exist for cancers linked to oestrogen.

Women with the gene have a very high risk of developing breast cancer - about 85% in their lifetime - leading to many, such as actress Angelina Jolie, choosing to have their breasts and ovaries removed.

The researchers at Queen's University, Belfast, say their discovery opens the way to prevent the disease with drugs rather than surgery.

They report their findings today in the journal Cancer Research.

The researchers say they hope to run clinical trials of the use of drug treatments for women with this gene.

Researcher Dr Kienan Savage said: “This discovery is very significant in the management of women with the BRCA1 gene mutation. It’s the first really credible evidence that oestrogen is driving cancer in women with a BRCA1 gene mutation.

"Because of this discovery, we now have the opportunity to propose an alternative treatment to surgery. It also opens up the possibility of pausing treatment for a period in order for women to have children, if desired.

“What also makes this exciting is that there are drugs already on the market which turn off oestrogen production. In theory, we could use these drugs to chemically reduce oestrogen production in women which could negate the need for irreversible surgery.”

Professor David Waugh, director of the university's Centre for Cancer Research, claimed the findings as a breakthrough.

He said: “This breakthrough by researchers at CCRCB is great news for women with the BRCA1 gene and the cancer research community as a whole. It is pivotal in that it reveals more about the mechanisms behind breast and ovarian cancer."

* A second study yesterday highlighted the changes in treatment that will emerge as high-speed genetic testing of women becomes common-place.

Reporting in the British Journal of Surgery, the researchers, from Norwich and Cambridge, UK, say improved gene testing may lead to women seeking to have more surgery than is usually offered when cancer is detected.

According to Dr Simon Pilgrim, women might choose a double mastectomy rather than a single one.

Cancer Research 28 March 2014

Opportunities and challenges of next-generation DNA sequencing for breast units. BJS 27 March 2014; doi:10.1002/bjs.9458 [abstract]

Tags: Cancer | Genetics | Pharmaceuticals | UK News | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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