How Research Is Beating Breast Cancer

One in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. We look at some key research projects promising improvements in treatment

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK—roughly one in eight women are diagnosed with it in their lifetime. The earlier it’s detected the more successful treatment is likely to be, and the better the chance of recovery.

Screenings for breast cancer are imperative to catch the disease and save lives. The X-ray test (called a mammogram) can spot cancers when they’re too small to see or feel.

Now the charity Against Breast Cancer (ABC) has launched ABC Discover, a new project to provide a basis for precision medicine in breast cancer. 

By applying the latest analytical technologies to clinical samples taken from breast cancer patients,  ABC Discover  hopes to improve rates of early detection and improve our understanding of the impact of diet and lifestyle on breast cancer recurrence and secondary spread. Representing a five-year, £1,200,000 commitment, ABC Discover will be based at the University of Southampton and brings the charity’s long-term research spending commitments to over £4,000,000 for the first time in its history.

Working in close collaboration with the advanced research infrastructure Against Breast Cancer already has in place at the University of Southampton, ABC Discover will be led by Dr Paul Skipp who together with his team plans to perform deep ‘molecular phenotyping’ of the clinical samples.

The research promises to have a major impact on the discovery of ‘biomarkers’, which are required for the development of new tools to identify risk and early detection of Stage IV breast cancer. 

See Also: Dr Hilary Jones Urges Women Not To Worry About HRT Breast Cancer Risk 


Dr Paul Skipp said “ABC Discover will enable more effective and personalised treatments meaning a better outcome for breast cancer patients. By using molecular signatures with clinical and lifestyle data, we will be able to better tailor existing treatments, paving the way for the development of new therapeutics and diagnostics”.

By identifying risk biomarkers and factors such as diet and lifestyle which are associated with recurrence, ABC Discover hopes to revolutionize treatment intervention to improve patient outcome. Advancing the effectiveness of predicting risk, diagnosing and monitoring responses and understanding cancer behaviour in response to diet and lifestyle, ABC Discover aims to provide the basis for precision medicine in breast cancer.

Bernadette Jones, Chief Executive of Against Breast Cancer said: “We need to better understand breast cancer and want to pave the way toward enabling more personalised and effective healthcare treatment and diagnosis. 

“ABC Discover will advance our understanding of why some breast cancers become metastatic and the impact diet and lifestyle has on patient progression and outcome. With the number of people living with breast cancer predicted to grow dramatically over the coming years the need to improve rates of earlier detection has never been greater.”

Meanwhile a relatively new science, genomics, promises improvements in the understanding of the human genetic code and the treatment of breast cancer. 

Genomics (a term coined in 1986) looks at the way groups of genes are expressed, particularly significant in breast cancer biology. 

One exciting area of research is what genomics can tell us about the way in which cancer cells are likely to respond to chemotherapy, and therefore whether this is the best way to treat a particular patient. 

Dr Caroline Archer, a Consultant Medical Oncologist specialising in breast cancer based at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, has been working with genetic testing specialist Genomic Health on a trial aimed at defining the benefits of chemotherapy. 


Dr. Archer said: “TAILORx, or Trial Assigning IndividuaLised Options for Treatment (Rx), is aimed at defining the benefits of chemotherapy. It was  one of the world’s largest breast cancer clinical studies, involving 10,273 women. The research was an independent study sponsored by the US National Cancer Institute and set a new standard of care in the UK and beyond.”

TAILORx was built around a test for the likelihood of cancer recurrence known as Oncotype DX, developed by leading Californian genetic research company Genomic Health. 

The Future 

Dr Archer said: “With greater understanding of the molecular biology of cancers and the use of genomics with tests such as Oncotype DX, we can better refine our treatments for those who will benefit most, achieving a personalised medicine approach to an individual’s cancer journey.” 

See Also: Breast Cancer – Symtpoms, causes treatments and medical support 

This feature was originally published in the winder edition of Live to 100 with Dr Hilary Jones, which you can read here 


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