In recent years, scientists have made progress in breast cancer research and although there are still many questions to be answered before we can completely eliminate the disease, we now know more than ever.

Here are six notable findings this year.

1. Drug combo beats breast cancer tumours in 11 days

In March, a combination of two cancer drugs, trastuzumab and lapatinib, was found to obliterate breast cancer in 11 % of patients within 11 days, according to research made at the Institute of Cancer Research in London. In some patients, the combination of drugs caused the tumours to shrink to a point where chemotherapy was no longer needed.

These drugs work via HER2, a protein that helps HER2-positive cancer tumours to grow. While this research is still in its early stages, the results could tailor cancer treatment to fight HER2-positive breast cancer without chemotherapy.

2. Blood tests for breast cancer

Typically, a mammogram exam is used to detect breast cancer, and may be followed-up with an invasive biopsy. However, there may be a blood test available for breast cancer, according to a research made last month.

The researchers discovered that isotopes carbon-13 and nitrogen-15, when in certain proportions in a tissue sample, can show whether the tissue is cancerous or not. This finding may enable doctors – perhaps in a few years’ time – to monitor breast cancer in addition to detection.

3. “Achilles heel” of HER2 breast cancer identified

Since current cancer treatments can only deactivate cancer cells temporarily, HER2 breast cancer can reactivate anytime and this makes the fight against HER2 cancer difficult. Even worse, in some invasive forms of breast cancer, an excess of HER2 leads to uncontrollable growth of cell that raises the bar for doctors.

However, in a recent study scientists have found exactly what makes current antibody treatments fail at destroying HER2. They point out that RAS protein reactivates the growth signal for HER2 receptors and they have designed a protein compound that can bind to two HER2 receptors and block these growth signals.

According to Andreas Pluckthun, a researcher involved in the study, identifying this “Achilles heel of HER2 positive cancer cells” may pave the way for more effective, and potentially lifesaving, cancer treatments.

4. Five newly discovered genes for personalised medicine

Earlier this year, five additional genes associated with breast cancer were discovered by researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the European Bioinformatics Institute. They also found 13 new mutational signatures that influence tumour development. These findings may provide cancer patients with individual profiles of their cancer genomes so that doctors can identify a treatment that gives a patient diagnosed with breast cancer the best shot.

Besides these scientists discovering new genes, breast cancer patients themselves have begun to make contributions by involving themselves in a crowdfunding project to gather troves of information about their disease. The goal is to gather molecular and genetic clues from a broad group of metastatic breast cancer patients and with this amount of data from thousands of people, researchers may come up with new target treatments for the disease.

5. Teen finds possible solution to triple negative breast cancer

Triple negative breast cancer, unlike other forms of breast cancer that have cell surface receptors, is a challenge to treat; despite treatments with a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, the prognosis remains poor.

However, that didn’t stop Krtin Nithiyanandam, a 16-year-old from England, who figured out a way to stop the cancer cells in triple negative breast cancer from differentiating into a more dangerous form. She also figured out a way to slow down tumour growth and make chemotherapy on triple negative cancer tumours more effective.

6. Natural progesterone prolongs life for patients

Adding the female hormone, progesterone, may have potential benefits to standard breast cancer treatments, according to researchers from Australia and the US.

Normally, in women with estrogen-driven breast cancer, standard treatments only target the estrogen receptor. Estrogen’s role in driving tumour growth is well-known but the same cannot be said of progesterone.

However, the researchers have identified a new drug that targets a certain progesterone receptor and opposes the action of estrogen in breast cancer, causing their growth to come to a halt and regress. MIMS

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Personalised medicine: Tailored to fit each person’s genes
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