Investigating prevention of tumour recurrence in pre-menopausal breast cancer patients

Investigating prevention of tumour recurrence in pre-menopausal breast cancer patients

With October marking Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re highlighting the impact which our supporters are helping us make by enabling research into better outcomes for people living with breast cancer.


As Doctor Penny Ottewell, Senior Lecturer in Bone Oncology at the University of Sheffield, says – survival rates for people diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer have improved drastically in the past 50 years.


The vast majority of patients whose breast cancer is detected early make a full recovery, thanks hugely to improvements in treatment and care – something which, with the backing of our supporters, we are proud to have helped enable.


However, there is so much more to be done to keep changing outcomes – both here in Sheffield and worldwide.


In addition to Penny and her team’s promising research into ways of improving outcomes for secondary breast cancer patients, Penny’s team is currently investigating is why pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer patients react differently to adding zoledronic acid to standard of care.


Large-scale clinical trials – including those part-funded by Weston Park Cancer Charity – found that adding zoledronic acid to standard-of-care treatment in early breast cancer reduced tumour spread to bone.


However, while post-menopausal patients benefitted from this, pre-menopausal patients did not.


Penny and her lab team are currently investigating why this survival benefit is only found in post-menopausal patients, in an attempt to find better treatment options for young, pre-menopausal breast cancer patients.


So far, they have found that high concentrations of oestrogen, seen in pre-menopausal patients, alters the ability of zoledronic acid to effectively reduce bone cell activity – causing tumour cells to move from the bone and grow other tissues.


Data also suggests that zoledronic acid kills tumour cells outside of bone by stimulating immune cells and that pre-menopausal concentrations of oestrogen reduce this anti-tumour activity.


Penny’s team is therefore investigating whether increasing anti-tumour immunity with the immunotherapy drug avelumab, will increase the tumour killing effects of zoledronic acid under pre-menopausal conditions and improve outcomes for young breast cancer patients.


Penny said: “Additional research is required before we can design clinical trials to determine whether adding immunotherapy to zoledronic acid will provide therapeutic benefit to premenopausal breast cancer patients.


“However, lab data is looking extremely promising and we hope to start looking into this within the next two years.


“Successful translation of these pre-clinical projects into effective treatments could save the lives of more than 30,000 breast cancer patients worldwide every year.


“The unprecedented rapid development of vaccines for Covid-19 is saving thousands of lives around the world. This shows what can be done when research is adequately funded in addition to the true value of research and clinical trials.


“This makes it so important for people to continue backing organisations like Weston Park Cancer Charity, who play a huge part in making sure this research continues.”


For more information on research supported by Weston Park Cancer Charity and how you could play your part, get in touch – phone 0114 553 3330 or email [email protected].