Exciting discovery on how to stop breast cancer returning years later

Zoe Winters explains how to check for breast cancer

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British scientists have now developed a technique to prevent the “time bomb” from exploding. Oncologists based at the Institute of Cancer Research have put the secondary cancer growth down to molecular changes in the lungs. With age, the number of protein PDGF-C is thought to accumulate within the lungs, which could “wake up” dormant secondary cancer cells.

Dr Frances Turrell explained: “Cancer cells can survive in distant organs for decades by hiding in a dormant state.

“We’ve discovered how ageing lung tissue can trigger these cancer cells to ‘reawaken’ and develop into tumours.

“And [we’ve] uncovered a potential strategy to ‘defuse’ these ‘time bombs’.”

Utilising an existing cancer medicine, the researchers blocked PDGF-C activity in patients, which led to promising results.

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Those who were given the treatment were less likely to develop secondary cancer growth.

Dr Turrell elaborated: “We now plan to better unpick how patients might benefit from the existing drug imatinib.

“And in the long term, aim to create more specific treatments targeted at the ‘reawakening’ mechanism.”

Up to 44,000 cases of ER+ (oestrogen receptor positive) breast cancer diagnoses occur each year in the UK.

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This type of breast cancer, which accounts for up to 80 percent of primary breast cancer cases, can lead to secondary tumours.

The risk of secondary tumours still exists after the original diagnosis and treatment.

Professor Clare Isacke said their research findings are “an exciting stride forward in our understanding of advanced breast cancer”.

Professor Isacke added: “Next we need to pinpoint when these age-related changes happen.

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“And how they vary between people so that we can create treatment strategies that prevent cancer cells ‘reawakening’.”

Dr Simon Vincent, the director of research at Breast Cancer Now, which funded the study, commented on the landmark project.

“We know that for years after finishing breast cancer treatment many women fear the disease returning.

“With an estimated 61,000 people living with secondary breast cancer in the UK, more research to understand and treat it is vital.

“This exciting discovery brings us a step closer to understanding how we can slow down or stop the development of ER+ secondary breast cancer in the lung.”

Dr Vincent added: “It has the potential to benefit thousands of women living with this ‘time bomb’ in the future.”

The scientific breakthrough ensures “fewer patients receive the devastating news the disease has spread”.

Read more on the research study, which is published in the journal Nature Cancer.

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