Imperial researchers have received funding from Breast Cancer Now for research into new treatments for breast cancer that resists hormone therapy.
Up to 80% of women with the disease are diagnosed with oestrogen receptor (ER) positive breast cancer. While many are treated successfully with hormone therapies like letrozole and anastrozole, some ER-positive tumours don’t respond or build up resistance over time. They can come back, grow and spread.
When breast cancer cells spread from the first cancer in the breast to other parts of the body it’s called secondary or metastatic breast cancer and although treatable, it currently can’t be cured.
Breast Cancer Now has awarded £249,952 to Professor Simak Ali and his team at Imperial College Lonodn to help discover why some breast cancers are resistant to hormone therapy, and to find better ways to treat people with ER-positive secondary breast cancer.
The ER gene is altered in up to 40% of secondary ER-positive breast cancers that are resistant to hormone therapy.
The team want to better understand how 10 of the most common changes in the ER gene help breast cancer cells grow despite treatment with hormone therapy. These changes can also make the disease more aggressive and help it spread.
By using breast cancer cells grown in the lab and cutting-edge gene analysis techniques to study the consequences of different ER gene alterations, they hope to find more effective ways to treat ER-positive secondary breast cancers that don’t respond to hormone therapy.
Professor Ali Simak, from the Department of Surgery and Cancer, said: “Thanks to research, there are very effective treatments available for ER-positive breast cancer, and many women will benefit from them. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for everyone, and we urgently need better ways to prevent and effectively treat secondary breast cancer.
“Our earlier work has shown that changes in the oestrogen receptor gene can affect cancer cells differently. Now we want to investigate this further – to help pinpoint the most effective treatments for each person whose disease stops responding to hormone therapy.”
Dr Simon Vincent, Breast Cancer Now’s Director of Research, Support and Influencing, said: “With an estimated 61,000 people living with secondary breast cancer in the UK, more research to understand and treat it is vital.
“Breast Cancer Now is delighted to fund this new research that we hope will lead to better treatments for people with secondary ER-positive breast cancer.”