A new study published in the medical journal Nature Medicine has found that the use of an already existing drug may prevent breast cancer in the estimated one in 400 women at risk due to a faulty BRCA1 gene. BRCA1 carriers face an extremely high risk of breast cancer — in some cases as high as 80 percent — unless they undergo a mastectomy. Actress Angelina Jolie Pitt, for instance, underwent not only a double-mastectomy but also had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed in order to mitigate her risk after it was discovered that she carried the gene. But a team of Australian researchers have found that injections of a inhibitor called denosumab was able to stop the spread of cancer in donated breast tissue from women with faulty BRCA1 genes, and further tests on BRCA1 mice found that two-thirds of the mice were able to avoid developing tumors. A pilot study of the drug on three human BRCA1 carriers in Melbourne has also shown a significant reduction in cancerous cells.
The first international human trial of the treatment is expected to begin within two years, but the next step — large clinical trials — is likely to take another decade. Even so, one of the leaders of the study, Professor Jane Visvader of Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, said that the findings could be tremendous news for BRCA1 carriers who otherwise would have to undergo preventative mastectomies, if not other preemptive measures, to lower their risk. “It is very exciting to think that we may be on the path to the ‘holy grail’ of cancer research,” said Visvader, “devising a way to prevent this type of breast cancer in women at high genetic risk.”
Read the full story at The Age.