Contact our breast care nurses 0808 800 6000

Breast Cancer Now funds research into new treatments for breast cancer that’s spread to the bone

Researchers are testing new combinations of drugs to treat breast cancer that’s spread to the bone, thanks to funding from Breast Cancer Now.

The charity has awarded £142,714 to Professor Penelope Ottewell at the University of Sheffield, to investigate whether a drug called radium-223, which is used to treat prostate cancer that’s spread to the bone, could be combined with other treatments to also benefit breast cancer patients.

When breast cancer cells spread from the first cancer in the breast to other parts of the body it is called secondary or metastatic breast cancer and although treatable, it can’t be cured.

An estimated 61,000 people are living with secondary breast cancer in the UK*. And in 70-80 per cent of women with secondary breast cancer, the disease has spread to the bone**.

Radium-223 is effective at treating prostate cancer that’s spread to the bone and works by releasing radiation that kills cancer cells. But in clinical trials, it hasn’t been as successful in getting rid of breast cancer cells in the bone.

Scientists think this is because breast cancer cells are very good at repairing their DNA when it gets damaged.

Professor Penelope Ottewell and her team will test if radium-223 can be combined with other drugs that target cancer cells’ ability to repair DNA. They hope the combination of treatments will make radium-223 more effective.

The researchers will carry out tests with drugs that are already used to treat cancer, and some which are still being developed, to find out which ones are most effective at shrinking and eliminating breast cancer cells when combined with radium-223.

They will then test if this combination can get rid of inactive breast cancer cells in the bone and prevent secondary breast cancer from even developing.

Professor Penelope Ottewell said:

“Although radium-223 is already used to treat prostate cancer that’s spread to the bone, it’s not been as successful in clinical trials for breast cancer. We hope by combining radium-223 with other drugs, we can unlock the potential of this treatment and help thousands of women with secondary breast cancer.”

Dr Simon Vincent, Breast Cancer Now’s director of research, support and influencing said:

“With 11,500 women dying from breast cancer in the UK every year, it’s vital we continue to fund research to understand and treat this devastating disease.

Breast Cancer Now is delighted to fund this new research that we hope will lay the groundwork for clinical trials into new treatment combinations for secondary breast cancer in the bone. And even help to stop secondary breast cancer developing in the bone in the first place.”

Breast Cancer Now is here for anyone affected by breast cancer, providing support for today and hope for the future. Find out more at


For more information or to arrange an interview please contact the Breast Cancer Now press office at or call 07436 107914.

Notes to editors

* Based on findings from Palmieri, C., Owide, J., & Fryer, K. (2022). Estimated Prevalence of Metastatic Breast Cancer in England, 2016-2021. JAMA Network Open, 5(12), e2248069 This paper estimates 57,215 people living with secondary breast cancer in England in 2020/21. Combined with requested data from Public Health Scotland (2022) estimating 3,945 people living with secondary breast cancer at the end of 2020.

 ** Parkes A, Clifton K, Al-Awadhi A, Oke O, Warneke CL, Litton JK, Hortobagyi GN. Characterization of bone only metastasis patients with respect to tumor subtypes. NPJ Breast Cancer. 2018 Jan 25;4:2. doi: 10.1038/s41523-018-0054-x

Share this page