Project details

Researcher: Professor Ellen Copson

Location: University of Southampton

Cost: £246,101

The challenge

Breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body is called secondary (or metastatic) breast cancer. Although it’s currently incurable, it’s commonly treated with chemotherapy and this treatment can come with difficult side effects. So, we need to better understand why some women will experience more side effects than others and find ways to reduce them.

“Most chemotherapy doses are calculated using height and weight and don’t account for body composition, such as the amount muscle mass or body fat the person has. We know that this can affect how drugs work and how effective they are, but we haven’t studied this in detail in secondary breast cancer yet. That’s why we’re investigating how body composition impacts chemotherapy, and we want to use this information to better guide treatment for these women.” Professor Ellen Copson

The science behind the project

Professor Ellen Copson of the University of Southampton and her colleagues are conducting a trial to investigate whether the amounts of muscle mass and body fat people with secondary breast cancer have influences the side effects they experience from chemotherapy.

They’ll measure the body composition and arm muscle strength of 250 women with secondary breast cancer from 8 hospitals before they start their chemotherapy treatment. The study team will also ask questions about their mental and physical wellbeing. Then they’ll take these measurements again 3 and 6 months later.

Ellen’s team will be comparing these measurements with the side effects that the women report. This will allow them to better understand whether a person’s body composition impacts the amount and severity of side effects they experience from chemotherapy. It will also help them understand whether people’s muscle mass and body fat levels change during treatment for secondary breast cancer.

What difference will this project make?

This project will allow us to better understand how a person’s body composition affects how severe their side effects from chemotherapy will be. This could help us to better identify women who have a higher risk of severe side effects. It could also lead to future studies looking at whether the dose of chemotherapy can be changed to match someone’s body composition and whether this can improve outcomes.

How many people could this project help?

Over 61,000 people are living with secondary breast cancer in the UK. The majority of them will receive chemotherapy at some point during their treatment. And this research has the potential to improve quality of life for all of them.