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Last Updated: Monday, 1 May 2006, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
Genetic breast cancer drug hope
Breast cancer cells
The study will look at women with hereditary breast cancer
Women with hereditary breast cancer who have seen the disease return are to take part in a ground-breaking study.

The international research is being carried out by Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Cancer Research UK experts.

It will compare carboplatin, a platinum-based drug not normally used to treat breast cancer, with standard chemotherapy treatment.

Around 5% of breast cancers occur in women with a strong family history of the disease.

We hope this will mean improved quality of life and survival for women with this rare but important form of genetic breast cancer
Dr Andrew Tutt, Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital

More than 75% of these families will have changes or mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.

Women who inherit changes in these genes have up to an 85% chance of developing breast cancer by the age of 70.

And even though there have been improvements in detection and treatment of early breast cancer, around 25% of women are likely to have a recurrence of their cancer.

Women who have been diagnosed with a faulty BRCA1 or 2 gene and whose breast cancer has returned elsewhere in the body will be eligible.

Some groups have a higher risk of having faults in these genes.

Around one in 44 Ashkenazi Jews carry a change in their BRCA genes compared to less than one in 100 people in the non-Jewish population.


The trial, which is beginning on the 10th anniversary of the identification of the BRCA2 gene, will monitor around 150 women from the UK, Europe, America and Australia in the four year study.

They will either be treated with carboplatin or the best current treatment, the chemotherapy drug, docetaxel.

Dr James Mackay, a genetic oncologist at University College London, who is leading the study, said: "This trial is unique because it is the first to treat a specific genetic population of breast cancer patients.

"It is also unusual for a drug to move directly from studies in the lab to trials with patients so quickly.

"But, because this is an established drug which is routinely used for the treatment of ovarian cancer, it has moved swiftly into trials and could be available to patients within five years if it proves to be effective."

There is currently there is no specially tailored chemotherapy treatment for women with faulty BRCA genes who have recurrent breast cancer.

These patients receive standard chemotherapy which is not always effective and can have unpleasant side effects.

Dr Andrew Tutt, a Breakthrough scientist and an oncologist at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital, who carried out the original research using the platinum-based drugs, said: "This genetically tailored chemotherapy treatment, carboplatin, acts in a much more focused manner than standard chemotherapy.

"While standard chemotherapy can affect any rapidly growing cell, these platinum drugs seem to be much more effective in destroying the cancerous BRCA cells.

"We hope this will mean improved quality of life and survival for women with this rare but important form of genetic breast cancer."


Kate Law, head of clinical trials at Cancer Research UK, said: "We are delighted to be co-funding this trial which will hopefully improve treatments for this important group of women."

Patients who want to sign up for the trial need to have a known fault in either BRCA1 or BRCA2, have a cancer that has spread beyond the breast and lymph glands and for which surgery is not suitable.

They must also not had any chemotherapy since the cancer spread.

More information can be found by visiting http://www.brcatrial.org, by calling 08080 100 200 or 020 7061 8355 or by visiting Cancer Research UK's clinical trials database at http://www.cancerhelp.co.uk.

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