Research round-up - News & Updates • Breast Cancer Foundation NZ

Research round-up

Each year, medical professionals and researchers converge on conferences to showcase the interesting and, at times, ground-breaking discoveries the scientific community has made in cancer research. We’ve rounded up our selection of the latest and greatest research from ASCO 2021 and beyond…

Lynparza reduces the risk of recurrence in BRCA-related breast cancer

In what’s being heralded as a treatment breakthrough for women with hereditary BRCA-related breast cancer, the PARP inhibitor olaparib (Lynparza) has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of recurrence. The treatment inhibits a molecule called PARP, which stops cancer cells from being able to repair their DNA and causes them to die. Researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research recruited 1,836 participants (including six men) and patients either had olaparib or a placebo twice daily for a year, after finishing active treatment for breast cancer.

Of those who received olaparib, 85% were alive without cancer recurrence at three years, compared to 77% of those who took the placebo – a 42% reduction in the risk of recurrence. Olaparib was also shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer spreading. For participants taking olaparib, 87.5% didn’t experience cancer spreading elsewhere in the body, compared to 80.4% in the placebo group. The results were so impressive that the trial was ended after two and a half years, instead of the planned 10 years. It’s hoped that the study could pave the way for targeted treatments in patients with hereditary high-risk breast cancer to reduce their risk of recurrence.

Ibrance in combination with fulvestrant provides better survival

There’s more evidence about the effectiveness of Ibrance. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that the combination of palbociclib (Ibrance) and fulvestrant (Faslodex) maintained a clinically meaning improvement in overall survival in patients with HR+, HER2- ABC. The study recruited 521 patients and found that their median overall survival on palbociclib and fulvestrant was 34.8 months, compared to 28 months for hose taking a placebo and fulvestrant. The five-year overall survival rate was 23.3% for palbociclib, with progression-free survival of 9.5 months, while those on the placebo had a five-year overall survival rate of 16.8% with progression-free survival of 4.6 months. The results are encouraging, especially as palbociclib and fulvestrant are both fully funded in New Zealand.

Mammaprint identifies patients who will be cancer-free for at least 20 years

A study presented at ASCO found that MammaPrint, a prognostic test that assesses the risk of breast spreading to other parts of the body, can identify patients who are at ultra-low risk of recurrence – including those who are likely to remain cancer-free for at least 20 years. The study looked at nearly 7,000 patients who had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and followed them for a median of nine years. Of those patients, 46% were shown to be at a clinically high risk of recurrence but had a low-risk result from MammaPrint, meaning they were able to skip chemotherapy without affecting their outcome. At eight years after treatment, 99% were alive while 97% saw no recurrence of their cancer in other parts of their body.

Patients with advanced breast cancer prefer flexible dosages

People with advanced breast cancer (ABC) can go through many treatments, and each treatment usually starts with the recommended starting dose (RSD). This dose is often determined at clinical trials, and patients’ real-world ability to tolerate this dose can differ from those who’ve taken part in clinical trials. Now a survey, the Patient-Centered Dosing Initiative, shows that a discussion between patients with ABC and their oncologists would be beneficial when it comes to deciding on individual dosages. As part of the study, 1,221 patients with ABC were recruited via social media groups, organisational newsletters and online support forums. Participants had received a median of two and a half lines of therapy and almost half had been diagnosed within two years of taking the survey. In previous treatments, 86% reported experiencing at least one significant treatment-related adverse effect, and 20% visited the emergency department due to this. Almost all the patients who had discussed their treatment dosage with their oncologist and 550 of them were able to have a lower dose, which most said made them feel better. Most patients (92%) said they would be willing to talk to their oncologist about having an individualised dosage, based on their personal characteristics and preferences. The study authors hope that this research will help oncologists look at how they can target dosages to help their patients’ quality of life.

Inflammatory diet can increase breast cancer risk

A large study following more than 350,000 women for 15 years found that diets high in inflammatory foods could increase the risk of developing breast cancer later in life. Researchers found that the risk of developing breast cancer was 12% higher in women who had the most inflammatory diets, compared to those eating the fewest inflammatory foods. The link was also more pronounced in women who developed breast cancer before menopause. Researchers took other factors into account, including drinking habits, body weight and exercise habits, and found that the connection between diet and breast cancer remained. Pro-inflammatory foods, like red and processed meats, sugar and saturated fats, are thought to contribute to chronic low-grade inflammation in the body, which has been linked to the development of various diseases. Researchers say that the findings don’t prove cause and effect, but it adds to the evidence that diet could play a part in the risk of developing breast cancer. As for the foods researchers recommend? Plenty of vegetables, fruits, beans, fibre-reach grains and ‘good’ unsaturated fats.