Project details

Researcher: Professor Elinor Sawyer

Location: King's College London

Cost: £249,860

The challenge

Invasive lobular breast cancer accounts for around 15% of all breast cancers. It starts in the lobules (milk-producing glands) of the breast, when other breast cancers usually start in the ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipple). Lobular breast cancers tend to be oestrogen receptor positive. But, there's evidence that sometimes lobular breast cancers don’t respond as well to some treatments.

We also know very little about the link between lobular breast cancer and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), although such a link exists.

“We want to understand why some patients with invasive lobular breast cancer relapse and gain more insight into how HRT and inherited genetic changes influence someone’s chances of developing this type of disease. If successful, our research will help doctors identify those patients with lobular breast cancer that are more likely to relapse. They could then be offered more intensive treatment at the time of diagnosis.’’ – Professor Elinor Sawyer 

The science behind the project

Professor Elinor Sawyer of King’s College London is investigating how the environment in the breast is involved in the development of invasive lobular breast cancer. It’ll help to develop better ways to detect and prevent this type of breast cancer.

For this project, she'll use 450 lobular breast cancer patient samples from the GLACIER study. This study looked at the genetics of lobular breast cancer.

Since the researchers also want to figure out how to predict if patients are likely to relapse, they’ll look into the differences between tumours that relapsed within 5 years or more than 5 years since diagnosis.

Firstly, they’ll analyse gene activity in the patient samples. The researchers will be looking at cancer cells, but also other healthy cells found in and around the tumour as well as the immune system cells present in patient samples. They’ll be looking for differences between lobular cancers that didn’t come back, came back within 5 years, or came back after 5 years or more. Taken together, this can tell them which genes, turned off or on, throughout the tumour environment, can signal if the disease is likely to come back.

Lastly, the researchers will compare samples from patients who’ve received any type of HRT (combined, or oestrogen only) to those who haven’t used HRT. They’ll also consider how long women used HRT for and how close to their breast cancer diagnosis. This data will tell how the use of HRT can influence the development of lobular breast cancer.

What difference will this project make?

This project could help us better identify which patients with invasive lobular breast cancer should receive more intense treatment at diagnosis. Especially if we can predict who has a higher risk of relapse within 5 years since diagnosis. It could help us ensure that everyone gets the most suitable treatment for them.

How many people could this project help?

This project could help thousands of people. Invasive lobular breast cancer accounts for approximately 15% of all breast cancers. Around 8,250 women are diagnosed with this type of breast cancer each year in the UK.