Developing new ways to assess treatment for breast cancer spread to the bone

Professor Gary Cook and team

Project details

Researcher: Professor Gary Cook

Location: St Thomas’ Hospital, King’s College London

Project title: Developing new ways to assess treatment for breast cancer spread to the bone

Key area: Treatment

The challenge

When breast cancer spreads to the bone, patients can experience severe symptoms such as pain and bone fractures. Having secondary cancer reduces the chance of survival. Treatments used to slow down the growth of these secondary tumours don’t always work and can cause severe side effects, so we need ways to find out as quickly as possible if a treatment is working or not.

Project description

Up to 70% of patients with advanced breast cancer will experience their cancer spreading to the bone, where it causes severe pain and fractures. Unfortunately, drugs to treat these secondary tumours will work in less than half of these patients, and so can cause some severe side effects without any long-term benefit.

Currently, it can take up to 24 weeks for doctors to determine whether these treatments are working.

Professor Cook and colleagues hope to find out whether cutting-edge imaging techniques could be used to determine whether a patient is responding to these treatments after just eight weeks. Professor Cook will use scans called Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) to assess secondary tumours in the bone in 34 patients before treatment and at eight weeks of treatment. These scans will be analysed in addition to the current standard assessments at eight, 12, and 24 weeks, as well as questionnaires about the patients' symptoms.

What difference will this project make?

Currently a patient whose breast cancer has spread to the bone could suffer from side effects from a treatment for up to 24 weeks before doctors can tell whether the treatment is working or not. Professor Cook's innovative research could cut down the delay in finding out whether a treatment will work from 24 weeks to eight weeks, which means a patient could be switched to an alternative if a treatment isn't working, potentially improving their survival and quality of life.

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