Best of Breast: news for week ending 27 December 2013

A round-up of this week’s latest medical developments for the week ending 27 December 2013, culled from Google Alerts.

The San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium 2013 still rules the waves, and I’ve included two summaries and interviews at the bottom of this post, courtesy of Medscape.  They are short interviews – about 15 minutes long each, and surprisingly understandable despite being given by oncologists.  They will give you something to impress your surgeon/oncologist when you next meet!

Also note the articles on real and sham acupuncture being effective – I’ve had acupuncture and it’s worked for me.  Also, new research on triple-negative breast cancer.

It being Christmas, I couldn’t resist and led with research on Frankincense as a treatment for tumours – in this case it’s ovarian cancer.

However, frankincense has already been tested for breast cancer as early as 2011 and possibly earlier (e.g “Boswellia sacra essential oil induces tumor cell-specific apoptosis and suppresses tumor aggressiveness in cultured human breast cancer cells“).

The active cancer-fighting ingredient in frankincense is boswellia and my understanding is that it is an anti-inflammatory, 5-LOX enzyme inhibitor.  However, all the boswellia supplements I’ve come across so far use boswellia carterii, and not boswellia sacra (though I’ve come an active extract, ApresFlex, by Life Extension Foundation) and the issue with boswellia is absorption and bioavailability.


1.  Frankincense ‘fights cancer’: Aromatic substance from the Nativity story could help treat ovarian tumours

  • Leicester University researchers found that a chemical in frankincense killed cells from hard-to-treat tumours
  • Frankincense is a fragrant plant resin extracted from the Boswellia sacra tree found across Africa and Arabia.
  • Using a compound derived from the resin known as ‘AKBA’ (acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid), the research, funded by the Omani government, has successfully shown its potential effectiveness in targeting ovarian cancer, the fifth most common cancer in females in the UK.

For more information:


Frankincense resin. Image credit:

2.  Breast cancer patients experience fewer side effects from anticancer drug when receiving real or sham acupuncture


Looks more painful than it is!

  • A new analysis has found that both real and sham acupuncture treatments may help alleviate side effects of aromatase inhibitors commonly used to treat breast cancer.
  • The research was conducted by a team from the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore.
  • Published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the findings may help clinicians improve care for cancer patients.
  • The results also raise the question of whether sham acupuncture is truly inert or may, like real acupuncture, have beneficial effects.

For more information:  “Study:  Both real and sham acupuncture help ease side effects of aromatase inhibitors during breast cancer treatment. (CANCER journal)

See also study supporting acupuncture:  “Acupuncture reduces side effects of breast cancer treatment as much as conventional drug therapy” (September 24, 2008, the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology’s 50th Annual Meeting in Boston)

3.  Why BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes lead to the development of breast and ovarian and not other cancers

  • Researchers announced in the journal Lancet Oncology that they are well on the way to discovering why women with the faulty genes BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, develop breast and ovarian cancer rather than other cancers.
  • Women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations are exposed to different levels of the female hormones oestradiol and progesterone, which are already known to be risk-factors for breast and ovarian cancer.
  • The findings indicate that BRCA carriers have abnormal hormone regulation, possibly due to a mechanism linked to the altered BRCA genes in carriers’ ovaries.
  • It is also possible that BRCA gene alterations change the sensitivity of tissues to hormones. More research into these mechanisms is needed.
  • Based on these findings, research has already begun into how estrogens affect the Fallopian tubes, as this is where the majority of “ovarian” cancers in BRCA1/2 carriers actually start.
  • The goal is to design drugs that might prevent the carcinogenic effect of high concentrations of estrogens in the Fallopian tube.

For more information: ’The sex hormone system in carriers of BRCA1/2 mutations: a case-control study’ is published online in Lancet Oncology.

4.  Seven new markers discovered for triple-negative breast cancer

  • Research from Breakthrough Breast Cancer scientists has discovered seven molecular markers that contribute to the behaviour of triple negative breast cancers.
  •  The research was led by Professor Andrew Tutt, Director of Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s Research Unit at King’s College London, and published in the journal BMC Genomics.
  • Scientists now have a better understanding of what causes triple negative breast cancer to develop and spread so quickly. This will help develop targeted drugs which will tackle this hard-to-treat form of the disease as well as helping to predict which patients are most likely to go on to develop metastatic breast cancer.

For more information:  “Integrated genomic analysis of triple-negative breast cancers reveals novel microRNAs associated with clinical and molecular phenotypes and sheds light on the pathways they control” (BMC Genomics 2013, 14:643  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-643)

See also research “Multi-gene test could help triple-negative breast cancer patients” (“A Prognostic Gene Signature for Metastasis-Free Survival of Triple Negative Breast Cancer Patients“(PLOS One))

5.  Invading cancers secrete enzyme that hijacks healthy tissue

  • Cancers secrete an enzyme allowing them to hijack the surrounding healthy tissue in order to create the right conditions for their invasion and spread, new research finds.
  • Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, discovered that the enzyme, called LOXL2, facilitates the process of tumour cell invasion, a key stage in cancer progression.
  • Their study, published in Molecular Cancer Research, found that blocking the LOXL2 enzyme significantly slowed the spread of breast cancer in mice, suggesting it could be a promising target for new drugs designed to stop cancer from spreading around the body.

For more information:  “Invading cancers secrete enzyme that hijacks healthy tissue” (The Insitute of Cancer Research – 18 October 2013)

Tumor-secreted LOXL2 Activates Fibroblasts Through FAK Signaling (Molecular Cancer Research)

6.  Low-Oxygen Conditions Promote Breast Cancer Spread

  • Biologists at The Johns Hopkins University have discovered that low-oxygen conditions, which often persist inside tumors, are sufficient to initiate a molecular chain of events that transforms breast cancer cells from being rigid and stationery to mobile and invasive.
  • Their evidence, published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, underlines the importance of hypoxia-inducible factors in promoting breast cancer metastasis.

For more information:  Rock and Rho proteins that help cancer cells groove (John Hopkins Medicine Press Release), Hypoxia-inducible factors mediate coordinated RhoA-ROCK1 expression and signaling in breast cancer cells (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

7.  PI3K-Targeting Agents May Help Overcome Resistance in Breast Cancer Treatment

  • The PI3K pathway is frequently altered in breast cancers and has been implicated in the development of resistance to hormonal approaches and anti-HER2 therapies.
  • Multiple inhibitors of the PI3K pathway currently are in preclinical and clinical development.
  • This in vitro work allows researchers to gauge whether particular subtypes of breast cancer respond to inhibition of the PI3K pathway, whether combinations of PI3K inhibitors with other targeted agents are synergistic, and whether there are any biomarkers that may predict response to these therapies.
  • It may lead to treatments that improve the long-term outcomes of patients with breast cancer that is treatment-resistant.

For more information:  UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center

8A.  Top News from San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium 2013 in slides (from Medscape):

Among the key presentations were:

  • Mastectomy questioned in stage IV disease
  • Anastrozole halves rate of first breast cancers
  • Postoperative radiotherapy study anticipated to change practice
  • Pathologic complete response arrives as standard measure in breast cancer
  • Bisphosphonates possible new addition to treatment

8B.  Medscape Interview:  San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium 2013 –   What’s cutting-edge in Local Breast Cancer Therapy

  • Kathy Miller, Associate Professor of Medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis looks at several key studies on the surgical management of breast cancer, recently presented at the 2013 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium
  • These include changes to local surgical therapy – lumpectomy vs mastectomy, sentinel node biopsies and axillary lymph node dissections, new approaches to radiotherapy (less vs more), local surgery not beneficial for metastatic breast cancer.
  • Joining her for the discussion is Professor Mike Dixon, Professor of Surgery and Consultant Surgeon at the University of Edinburgh.


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