‘Secondary’ or ‘advanced’ breast cancer is when cancer has grown and spread beyond its primary tumour site to other areas of the body, known as metastasis. If this occurs, the cancer is often resistant to chemotherapy and patients generally have a poor prognosis. This is the main cause of death from breast cancer.
Parallel to our development of diagnostic tests for the early identification of aggressive breast cancer, QIMR Berghofer is also developing new drug targets for these aggressive or metastatic breast cancers.
The efficient repair of damage to DNA is essential for cancer cells to survive and grow. QIMR Berghofer scientists are targeting some of the proteins that are key players in this process, because without them the cancer will die. This type of research is especially important in triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive sub-type of the disease which cannot be treated effectively with currently available hormone therapies.
Our researchers are developing a drug treatment that specifically targets proteins to limit the growth advantages they provide for metastatic cells. One new treatment has already been tested in pre-clinical trials, where excitingly it reduced the spread of metastatic breast cancer.
Other trials targeting signaling proteins have also shown promising results so far in reducing tumour growth and reversing treatment resistance.
QIMR Berghofer’s work in harnessing cancer immunotherapy (training the immune system to destroy cancer cells) to fight aggressive breast cancer has also shown promising results in preclinical studies. During the study, when immunotherapy was given before surgery, survival rates were improved compared to if immunotherapy was given after surgery. Clinical trials are now underway worldwide to see if giving immunotherapy drugs before surgery could improve survival rates in humans with breast cancer, as well as other cancer types.
Targeted drug therapies and immunotherapy can help us stop cancer from growing and spreading, and improve survival rates for patients with aggressive breast cancer.
Research featured conducted by: Dr Adrian Wiegmans, Tumour Micro-Environment Laboratory and Dr Michele Teng, Cancer Immunoregulation and Immunotherapy Laboratory
“We are entering the next exciting phase of research. With additional funding we will be able to take our findings and test them in the real world clinical environment and provide therapy for patients with aggressive metastatic breast cancer who are not benefitting from the current standard of care. There is the potential to obtain stable progressive disease and even cures.” — Dr Adrian Wiegmans, Tumour Micro-Environment Laboratory
Infographic statistics: Thomas A, Khan SA, Chrischilles EA, Schroeder MC. Initial Surgery and Survival in Stage IV Breast Cancer in the United States, 1988-2011. JAMA surgery. 2015:p1-8