Breast cancer research ‘breakthrough’

An Australian research team have discovered an existing medication which they claim could prevent breast cancer in women with an inherited BRCA1 gene.

For women who’ve been identified as carrying the faulty breast cancer gene, the new research could now provide the option to delay or prevent the disease without the need for a decision to have their breasts surgically removed.

The drug, currently used to treat osteoporosis, is still to be tested in human trials.

Scientists at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne are researching viable means for identifying pre-cancer cells using breast tissue donated with the faulty BRCA1 gene.

The pre-cancer cells are identified using a marker protein called RANK.

By identifying the cells, the doctors are working to inactivate the cells before they become cancerous by targeting them with the existing medication, denosumab.

Institute Professor Geoff Lindeman told that the research indications so far are positive.

“We are very excited by these findings because it means we’ve found a strategy that might be useful to prevent breast cancer for high risk women, particularly BRCA1 mutation carriers.”

The professor, who is also a medical oncologist at The Royal Melbourne Hospital said the discovery offered an important breakthrough because RANK inhibitors are already in clinical use.

“The strategy,” Prof Lindeman said “could delay or prevent breast cancer in women with an inherited BRCA1 gene mutation.

CEO of Cancer Council Australia, Professor Sanchia Aranda said while the study does offer hope to potential carriers of the faulty gene, she warns a potential rollout is still years away as the drug would still need to be tested in women over a long period of time.

Women carrying the BRAC1 gene have a 65 per cent chance in their lifetime of developing breast cancer.