A new study by experts at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, a non-profit genomics and genetics research institute in the UK, suggests that targeted biological therapies that can help fight breast cancers caused by rare, inherited genetic errors like the BRCAmay also work in many other women who do not have these risky genes.
The researchers say the drugs could be effective in one in five women with breast cancer, which is 20% of patients – far more than the 1 to 5% who develop the cancer alongside having faulty BRCA genes.
One biological therapy or PARP inhibitor, called olaparib, is already used on the NHS to treat advanced ovarian cancer. It is not yet approved as a breast cancer drug, although some UK women are taking it in clinical trials.
For the latest work, the researchers looked at the genetic make-up of breast cancer in 560 different patients. They found a significant proportion of them had genetic errors or “mutational signatures” that were very similar to faulty BRCA.
Given the close similarity, these cancers might be treatable with biological therapies too, they reasoned. They recommended clinical trials to confirm this.
One of the researchers, Dr. Helen Davies, said there was also the potential to treat other types of cancers with these drugs. Biological therapies have already had some promising results for treating prostate cancer. They change the way cells work and help the body control the growth of cancer.
Carrying certain gene mutations, like faulty BRCA, increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, although it does not mean she will definitely go on to get cancer.Some women – like Angelina Jolie – opt to have surgery to have their breasts removed to lower their lifetime risk.