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Stubborn breast cancers come under fresh assault

The discovery of a new technique for treating breast cancer may provide hope for women whose disease has become resistant to treatment.

Australian scientists believe they can identify when to provide additional chemotherapy to patients whose cancer is becoming resistant.

They are developing a blood test that can determine when a gene that keeps cancer cells alive is silenced, leaving the cells more susceptible to chemotherapy.

The research on the BCL-2 gene is anticipated to help the 70 per cent of breast cancer patients who have oestrogen receptor positive cancer.

The researchers found that the BCL-2 gene is silenced in tumours that develop resistance to anti-oestrogen treatments such as tamoxifen. They believe this process is detectable in blood, and propose combining tamoxifen and a chemotherapy drug to kill the cancer when the gene is silenced.

Lead researcher Professor Susan Clarke from the Garvan Institute told the Courier Mail that the new technique could be quickly incorporated into existing clinical practice because the technology now exists to profile methylation of BCL-2 in all patients – both those oestrogen-responsive and oestrogen-resistant.

“If such a test were to be implemented, we believe it could help patients much earlier, hopefully shutting down tumours at an early stage,” Professor Clarke said.

Breast cancer affects one in nine women and one in 100,000 men.

The research was published in Molecular Cancer Therapies.

Kirsty Waterford

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