For more than 25 years, we have committed ourselves to funding the very best in breast cancer research.
Our landmark investments, as the legacy charities Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer, include:
- Opening the UK’s first dedicated breast cancer research centre at the Institute of Cancer Research in London
- Launching one of the world’s largest studies into the causes of breast cancer - the Generations Study
- Establishing the UK’s first ever national breast cancer tissue bank, to provide researchers across the UK and Ireland with tissue vital to their work.
Here you can find out more about some of our research achievements, all made possible by the generosity of our supporters.
Breast cancer genetics – BRCA2 and beyond
In 1995, our funding supported some of the vital work which led to the discovery of the BReast CAncer 2, or BRCA2 gene. Genetic testing for BRCA2 faults now enables families to better understand, and take measures to reduce, their chances of getting breast cancer.
We’ve also helped to discover more than 90 further changes in the genetic code associated with breast cancer risk, more than doubling the number of genetic markers known to impact on a woman’s risk of the disease. Our funding also led to mutations in the PALB2 gene being linked to breast cancer.
These major findings are beginning to help our scientists to more accurately identify an individual’s risk of getting breast cancer, incorporating other known risk factors.
In 2005, our scientists published a landmark research paper that showed a new class of drugs – called PARP inhibitors – could be used to treat breast and ovarian cancers caused by faulty BRCA genes.
These drugs were moved into clinical trials at unparalleled speed and low cost, offering new hope to this group of patients. Since then, in 2016 the PARP inhibitor olaparib was approved for use on the NHS to give patients with secondary ovarian cancer a desperately needed new treatment option which significantly increases the time it takes for their disease to progress, delaying the need for further chemotherapy.
Getting the most benefit from chemotherapy
Our researchers developed a simple, low-cost test called IHC4 that predicts which patients, with a certain type of breast tumour, will benefit from, or safely avoid, chemotherapy after surgery.
Following recommendations from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), IHC4 is currently undergoing broader testing in the NHS to assess its reproducibility in routine use.
Surgery and radiotherapy – improving non-drug treatments
We made a significant contribution to improving breast cancer surgery by funding a specialist breast tutor at the Royal College of Surgeons of England to provide the UK’s first surgical courses to train the breast surgeons of the future. These courses still continue today.
We also helped fund the world’s largest breast cancer trial of a new form of radiotherapy, Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT), which showed that IMRT gives a better overall breast appearance and reduces the risk of broken blood vessels near the surface of the skin.
These results have been practice-changing and have driven the uptake of IMRT in the UK and internationally.
The impact of secondary breast cancer
Our researchers led a pioneering study into the physical, emotional and social problems experienced by people living with secondary breast cancer.
Close collaboration with Breast Cancer Care allowed the results to inform the charity’s Standards of Care, first published in 2008, outlining 10 key components of high-quality care that people with secondary breast cancer should receive.
The Generations Study
With more than 113,000 healthy women taking part over 40 years, the Generations Study is unpicking some of the subtle changes in women’s lifestyles and environment to help explain why breast cancer continues to rise in the UK.
The study has already led to the identification of more than 90 common genetic changes associated with the development of breast cancer, as well as showing how life events such as age at menopause and lifestyle factors such as weighing more as an adult all impact on breast cancer risk.
The Tissue Bank
In 2012 we launched the UK's first ever national breast cancer tissue bank. The Tissue Bank has given breast cancer research a massive boost and has already resulted in discoveries about the spread of breast cancer and in the field of epigenetics.
Visit our blog and news pages for the latest findings from our scientists.