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Breast cancer molecule breakthrough

07 July 2014 09:30

The discovery of a molecule that helps breast cancer tumours grow could inspire new treatments for the disease

The discovery of a molecule that helps breast cancer tumours grow could inspire new treatments for the disease

Scientists have discovered a molecule that aids the growth and spread of breast cancer tumours.

Researchers at the Barts Cancer Institute believe the alpha v beta 6 molecule could inspire new treatments for the disease and help doctors identify women who are at risk.

The Barts team discovered the levels of the molecule were high in two fifths of the tumours in patients with a particular form of breast cancer, HER2 positive, on which hormone therapy has no effect.

Women who suffer from the disease can arrange specialist cancer travel insurance if they are going overseas.

The study, made public in the National Cancer Institute journal, found that women with high levels of alpha v beta 6 are twice as likely to succumb to breast cancer in five years of finding they have it than those with lower levels of the molecule.

The scientists introduced an antibody drug to mice with HER2 positive breast cancer in order to prevent the molecule from working. The tumours disappeared in mice that were given the antibody and Herceptin, a drug that affects the HER2 protein, for six weeks.

Tumours reduced in size in more than three quarters of mice that were given just Herceptin (77.8%) while they became smaller in 94.8% of the mice that were just given the antibody drug.

Around 7,000 women a year are left with a limited number of options for treatment because Herceptin has no effect on seven in 10 patients with the form of breast cancer or their body resists the drug.

Concentrating on alpha v beta 6 could make Herceptin more effective and combining drugs could prove beneficial for many patients, Barts Cancer Institute team leader Dr John Marshall said.

He said routine biopsies could be tested for the molecule to work out the risks to women and develop personalised forms of treatment.

The National Cancer Institute is 'Spreading the Word to Stop the Spread' with a campaign informing the public that 12,000 British women still die from breast cancer every year.