When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body from the breast, it is called secondary breast cancer. At this stage, although it can be managed, it is incurable. We believe research holds the key to saving these lives.
Right now, we fund almost 40% of all research projects in the UK focused on understanding how and why breast cancer spreads and becomes incurable.
What is our secondary breast cancer research about?
Our researchers work tirelessly to understand what we need to do to stop secondary breast cancer in its tracks.
Our research into secondary breast cancer covers many different topics, from understanding how secondary breast cancer develops and looking for ways to prevent it, to finding better treatments and better ways to support people with the disease. And beyond this research which focuses on developing new treatments specifically designed for secondary breast cancer, we also hope that further areas of breast cancer research that we fund could also lead to new treatments that women with secondary breast cancer could benefit from.
Here are some examples of research happening right now:
- Dr Damir Vareslija is studying how breast cancer spreads to the brain in the hope to reveal new treatment options to stop the disease spreading.
- Professor Nicholas Turner is testing a new drug for secondary lobular breast cancer in a clinical trial ROLO.
- Professor Gary Cook is developing a new way to tell, at an early stage, whether a treatment is successfully controlling secondary breast cancer in the bone.
- Dr Fiona Kennedy is assessing an online support service for secondary breast cancer patients.
You can also see the list of our research projects into secondary breast cancer.
What have we achieved?
- Our researchers at the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research in London have contributed to the development of PARP inhibitors. It’s a new class of drugs that target cancers with alterations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. PARP inhibitors, such as olaparib, are already used to treat secondary triple negative breast cancer in the USA and we hope will soon reach people who need them in the UK and Ireland.
Olaparib is already available for women with BRCA-mutant advanced ovarian cancer, and is the first drug to be approved that is directed against an inherited genetic mutation. It is a perfect example of how understanding a patient’s genetics and the biology of their tumour can be used to target its weaknesses and personalise treatment.
Professor Andrew Tutt, Director of our research centre
- Our researchers have also discovered that a lung cancer drug crizotinib could work well to treat around 90% of lobular breast cancers. They are now running a clinical trial ROLO for patients with secondary lobular breast cancer.
These are hugely promising laboratory findings and we’re very keen to learn whether this class of drug really works as a treatment for women with breast cancer. What we have seen so far suggests this is certainly an approach worth pursuing and we are very enthusiastic about the prospect of applying our scientific results in clinical trials.
Professor Chris Lord who led the study
- Our researchers have also found that arthritis drugs could prevent breast cancer from spreading to the bone in mice. Researchers think that clinical trials to see if it can stop secondary breast cancer developing in the bone could start in two to three years.
We are very excited by our results in the lab showing that breast cancer in bone can be prevented using drugs that are already approved for other diseases. We hope it can soon be established whether these drugs can be used for breast cancer patients following successful testing in clinical trials.
Dr Rachael Eyre who carried out the research
- Based on the results from Breast Cancer Now LEGACY study, researchers have developed a 'molecular clock' blood test that can track the growth of multiple tumours around the body. It could help identify the most actively growing tumours and guide treatment. Scientists believe that this new test would be highly sensitive and relatively cheap to perform, as it doesn’t require any previous knowledge of cancer’s genetic make-up. But it needs to be developed further before it can reach clinics.
Clearly we need to expand this testing to a larger cohort of patients to see how widely applicable it might just be – in breast cancer patients as well as potentially in patients with other cancer types. I am wholeheartedly grateful to the patients and their families who so generously made this study possible.
Peter Barry who led the Breast Cancer Now LEGACY study
We need research more than ever
Breast cancer is affecting more of us than ever before. Every day, around 150 people in the UK hear the words ‘it’s breast cancer’. To stop people dying from the disease, we need to understand it better. We need research.
And we always want to do so much more, but we can’t without your help.