Best of Breast: news for week ending 1 November 2013

A sweep of the latest medical developments in breast cancer from Google Alerts, for the week ending 1 November 2013.

[Breast Cancer Awareness month is just about over, but Google Alerts is still top-heavy with first-person survival stories, and cancer fundraisers and tweeting bras, so if I’ve missed something out, my apologies. Please post any new developments that I’ve missed in the comments box and I’ll be glad to include them in the compilation, and include an acknowledgement of your contribution.]


1.  German breast cancer detection tool employing blind women

OK, this isn’t an earth-shattering medical development or cure for cancer, but it’s an example of how we don’t always need expensive or sophisticated equipment to detect cancer.  This is a low-tech idea that can be used in countries where mammograms aren’t available.

Discovering Hands, is a German programme that hopes to give blind women an opportunity for a life-changing career by turning their more acute sense of touch into a skilled breast tumor detection tool.

In the Medical Tactile Examination method, self-adhesive orientation stripes with tactile orientation points are attached to the patient’s breast in various positions, and the breast is divided into zones that allow the examiners to define the precise square centimeter where an abnormality is found. Unlike an exam by a doctor, an MTE breast examination takes between 30 to 60 minutes.

Discovering Hands conducted a study in conjunction with the University of Essen, looking at 451 patients that were examined by MTEs. Among these patients, there were 32 abnormal findings that were discovered by the MTEs but not by the doctors. “Women with those findings would have been sent home by the doctors,” Dr Hoffman, the physician in charge of the study, told A new peer review study will begin in November.”

Discovering Hands – website.

2.  Breast cancer ‘rising in under-40s’ across Europe

  • Cases of breast cancer in women under 40 are rising across Europe, research suggests.
  • Experts say it is unclear whether this is due to improved diagnosis or new risk factors.
  • A study in Cancer Epidemiology found cases rose by about 1% a year between 1990 and 2008 in seven countries.
  • Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer among women globally, and the leading cause of cancer death.

3.  New breast cancer test that can detect seven types of the disease could lead to more personalised treatment for patients

  • Scientists looked for signature biomarkers in 1,073 tumour samples
  • Found that 93% of samples fitted into one of seven classes of breast cancer
  • Each cancer type has a different effect on patient survival
  • Last year researchers categorised 10 different forms of breast cancer based on their underlying gene defects. But they can only be identified using sophisticated genetic profiling, making this form of test for patients costly and impractical.
  • In contrast, the seven cancer test could be ready for use in the clinic in as little as two years, it is claimed.

4.  Hormone levels may help predict breast cancer risk

Researchers report that doctors might better predict a woman’s risk for breast cancer by tracking levels of key hormones.

5.  UK-made drug blocks oestrogen production and may help prolong lives of post-menopausal women

  • Drug irosusat is being trialled by patients in Liverpool and the Wirral
  •  Most breast cancers need oestrogen to grow and there are two ways  in which the body  can make it.
  • Currently, a hormone drug can block one of these ways, but with the introduction of irosustat, it is possible to block the other one.
  • If trials show the new pill is working it could be available within three years

6.  New nanoparticles treatment delivers one-two punch to triple-negative breast cancer

Triple negative breast cancer is a very aggressive form of cancer that is very difficult to treat: Chemotherapy can shrink such tumors for a while, but in many patients they grow back and gain resistance to the original drugs.

To overcome that resistance, MIT chemical engineers have designed nanoparticles that carry the cancer drug doxorubicin, as well as short strands of RNA that can shut off one of the genes that cancer cells use to escape the drug. This “one-two punch” disables tumors’ defenses and makes them much more vulnerable to chemotherapy.

7A.  Radiation for breast cancer can increase heart risks

I don’t think this study is saying anything new:  it’s another case of weighing up the odds, and buying yourself time by taking your chances with radiotherapy and not dying of cancer.

A new research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine estimates that the increased lifetime risk for a heart attack or other major heart event in women who’ve had breast cancer radiation is between 0.5% and 3.5%. The risk is highest among women who get radiation to the left breast—understandable, since that’s where the heart is located.

The heart effects of radiation begin emerging as soon as five years after treatment, according to a large European study out earlier this year in The New England Journal of Medicine. That study also found that, for every 1 gray of radiation (a unit that measures the absorbed radiation dose), a woman’s heart risk rises by 7.4%.”

7B.  Healthy hearts handle breast cancer radiotherapy better

“There really isn’t any safe dose at all,” Jean-Bernard Durand, MD, an associate professor in the department of cardiology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, told MedPage Today.

He suggested that radiation oncologists consider better ways to protect and shield the heart from radiation exposure and radiation scatter. Also, they should continue to work with cardiologists and internal medicine physicians following radiation therapy to ensure patients maintain a healthy lifestyle and are on optimal medical therapy for heart disease risk factors.

Radiotherapy-induced risks of major coronary events are likely to be reduced in these patients by targeting baseline cardiac risk factors (cholesterol, smoking, hypertension), by lifestyle modification, and/or by pharmacological treatment.