In the news: Inherited cancers

A pioneering drug to treat an inherited cancer could be the beginning of personalised tumour treatments. 

The drug, olaparib, has been recommended for approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for women with ovarian cancer caused by inherited BRCA gene mutations.

Early trials suggest the drug could also be effective against aggressive, advanced prostate cancer linked to genetic defects, even when they are not inherited. Potentially, it could also be used to treat other, solid tumour cancers driven by similar DNA repair mutations, says cancer specialist, Professor Johann de Bono, from the Institute of Cancer Research, in London.

Blood test:

Breast cancer that attacks the brain may soon be identifiable with a blood test, new research suggests. Scientists who studied 24 breast tumours that had spread to the brain discovered several faulty gene ‘switches’ linked to this spreading, or metastasis. Two of the switches — chemical inserts that turn genes on or off — became defective early in the development of the breast cancer. These may be an early-warning signal for tumours likely to spread to the brain.

The scientists are now working on a blood test that might detect the faults early, before the cancer has spread.

The findings were presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) conference in Liverpool.

Extending life:

A drug derived from sea sponges can extend by five months the life of women who have an especially aggressive form of breast cancer, research has shown. Two major trials involving more than 1,800 women with metastatic, or spreading, breast cancer found eribulin boosted survival by more than two months, on average.

The most significant improvement was seen in women who had the advanced, triple-negative breast cancer, a form of the disease with limited treatment options.

Eribulin increased the lifespan of these women by nearly five months. It also added more than two months to the lives of women with HER2 negative breast cancer, another hard-to-treat disease.


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