The Future of Breast Cancer Treatment: Personalised Medicine - Latest news • Breast Cancer Foundation NZ

The Future of Breast Cancer Treatment: Personalised Medicine

How amazing would it be if your breast cancer treatment was tailored to you? It’s actually already started - from genetic screening to immunotherapy. The field of personalised medicine is growing and it’s very promising.

In 1996 testing for the BRCA1/2 genetic mutations to determine inherited risk of breast cancer was used for the first time. Today, women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer can be tested for the BRCA mutations and, if tested positive, will undergo more frequent screening – the first stage in a more personalised treatment program.

Genetic testing has also been used to decide whether or not a patient requires chemotherapy after surgery – one of these genomic tests named Oncotype DX can determine the risk of breast cancer recurrence for a small subset of women, saving these women from the harsh side effects of chemo.

Scientists at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute are working on a project in which 275 women, with breast cancer have had their entire genetic code mapped. According to doctors this helps choose treatments and predict whether patients will experience side effects or drug resistance. It is hoped these women will now be put on more targeted drug trials.

Dr Barbra Lipert (University of Auckland) is also running a BCFNZ funded study looking into the genetics behind drug resistance. This will help clinicians and patients make informed decisions about the best treatment for the individual patient.

A BCFNZ supported clinical trial, led by Professor Parry Guilford is looking at whether a blood test can monitor metastatic patient’s response to treatment. This would mean less time wasted on treatments which aren’t working. These blood tests, which monitor the individuals circulating tumour DNA, would replace scans with an inexpensive alternative - picking up small changes that scans may miss.

Immunotherapy has received lots of attention recently. Manipulating an individual’s natural defence system to tackle breast cancer is being worked on all over the world. Some studies have shown very promising results, however, they all are in early stages with no major clinical trials underway. The process works by isolating cancer fighting cells from a patient, then growing and manipulating them outside the body, before injecting them back into the patient. This is an extremely exciting new form of treatment and would take personalisation to another level.

There is a growing armoury to combat breast cancer – personalised treatment plans will help detect cancer sooner and ensure treatment is more specific, increasing life expectancy and moving towards the goal of zero deaths from breast cancer.