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New Test Could Reveal Chemotherapy Benefit in 24 Hours


Friday 27 August 2010


Scientists have developed a new test to indicate whether the most commonly-used chemotherapy drug will benefit a breast cancer patient within 24 hours of taking it. The test also identifies patients who may benefit from PARP inhibitors, a promising new class of cancer treatment.

The work was carried out at the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London with the results published today in the journal Clinical Cancer Research. The test has the potential to identify which patients benefit from anthracycline chemotherapy, a standard treatment for many of the 46,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK each year.

The team looked at the protein RAD51, which plays a major role in DNA repair. Studying 68 breast cancer patients, they found that if this protein did not work in cancer cells, patients were much more likely to respond to anthracycline. Many of these patients had a complete response with the tumour disappearing from the breast. If the DNA repair process was working in the tumour, they would probably not respond to the treatment, with complete response being unlikely.

This is the first time this mechanism has been shown in a clinical setting and could have important implications for patients.

Lead author Dr Nicholas Turner, from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at the ICR, said: “This test may reduce the time taken to discover if a breast cancer patient is not going to have a good response to a chemotherapy from three months to just 24 hours. It would make a big difference to patients, who could be moved onto other treatment options sooner - and spared unnecessary side effects.

“This test is at an early stage of development and now needs to be confirmed in larger studies to see if it can be effective.”

Excitingly, this research also suggests that patients who are also likely to respond to PARP inhibitors could be identified. Recent studies have suggested that up to 30 per cent of breast cancer patients could be treated with PARP inhibitors – although the drugs are still in clinical trials and not yet licensed for use. This or similar tests could be very helpful in accelerating the development of these drugs.

Professor Alan Ashworth
, Director of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at the ICR, said: “We want to see all breast cancer patients get the right treatment at the earliest possible stage. This test is a step towards that aim and we now want to develop it so that it can be used routinely in the clinic. It is also exciting because it suggests a way of finding patients that might respond to PARP inhibitors.”

Currently, patients have to take a full 12-week course of chemotherapy before doctors know how well they have responded, which is typically a combination of two or three chemotherapy drugs. One of these would usually be anthracycline. While the drug works for many patients, some patients do not respond. If a woman does not respond to anthracycline based chemotherapy they could be taken off it and treated with other chemotherapy drugs, or potentially switched to hormone therapies, such as tamoxifen.


Media Contact: Richard Purnell in the Breakthrough Breast Cancer press office on 020 7025 0290


Notes to editors:

About breast cancer

  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK – nearly 46,000 women and around 300 men are diagnosed every year.
  • Breast cancer accounts for nearly 1 in 3 of all female cancers and one in nine women in the UK will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime.
  • More than 1,000 women die of breast cancer every month in the UK.
  • The good news is that more women than ever in the UK are surviving breast cancer thanks to better awareness, better treatments and better screening.

Breakthrough Breast Cancer

  • Breakthrough Breast Cancer is a pioneering charity dedicated to the prevention, treatment and ultimate eradication of breast cancer.  The charity fights on three fronts: research, campaigning and education
  • Breakthrough Breast Cancer funds ground-breaking research, campaign for better services and treatments and raise awareness of breast cancer.  Through this work the charity believes passionately that breast cancer can be beaten and the fear of the disease removed for good

Find more information at

The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)

  • The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre
  • The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise
  • The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe
  • The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary income, spending 90 pence in every pound of total income directly on research
  • As a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction
  • Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world

For more information visit

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