Prevent Breast Cancer’s Executive Director Nikki Barraclough rounds up the research and developments in breast cancer during 2018
In 2018, we have funded some truly innovative new research in the battle against breast cancer. It’s very early days, but at the start of the year we were awarded funding for a project that will enable our researchers to create a complex replication of human breast tissue for testing drugs in the lab. The model will resemble real breast tissue so closely that it will mimic mammographic density, one of the most important predictors of breast cancer. This impressive technological advance will enable the large-scale testing of drugs that could potentially be found to prevent the disease.
Our Family History Healthy Lifestyles project also started this year, headed by Dr Michelle Harvie. It aims to identify the most effective ways to support women who have a family history of breast cancer through changes to their lifestyle. We estimate that maintaining a healthy weight, undertaking regular physical activity and limiting alcohol intake can reduce the risk of breast cancer by 25 – 40 per cent, even for those with a family history of the disease.
Prevent Breast Cancer’s ground-breaking PROCAS research each individual woman’s risk of cancer at the time of screening, with scientists assessing a range of factors in addition to the mammogram, such as breast density, family history and lifestyle. Through this analysis, they generate a ‘risk score’ for developing the disease. Once the score has been established, women are able to make proactive choices about their health. Those at higher risk are offered support and advice on the steps they can take to lower it, including more frequent mammograms and, for those at particularly high risk, preventative drugs or surgery.
Almost 19,000 women across Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Lancashire will take part in our study, which means that large numbers of women will benefit from the highly-effective new methods. The trial is due to complete in 2020, and our goal is that by 2022 this new approach will be rolled out across the UK. We believe that it will have a significant impact on the prevention of breast cancer.
In April, we funded a new project called SNPS-3, which falls under our gene research pillar. This study will test whether it’s feasible to incorporate DNA SNPs – gene fragments – into the previously mentioned ‘risk score’, and will be offered to 1,500 of the 19,000 women who are taking part in the PROCAS study. The team will assess whether the results can be provided in a timely fashion – within six weeks of screening. Without trialling this development in a real-life situation, such a programme is unlikely to be incorporated into standard medical care. Both projects will ultimately result in a smarter, more streamlined screening programme within the NHS.
In November, it was announced that Breast Cancer Now and Breast Cancer Care will merge into one charity in April 2019. This means that the charities will be uniting in their ambition to ensure that, by 2050, everyone who develops breast cancer will survive, and receive the support that they need. Both charities do incredible work, so we look forward to seeing what they will achieve together.
At Prevent Breast Cancer, we’re the only charity in the UK that focuses solely on the prediction and prevention of breast cancer. Our roots are firmly in Manchester, and although we are a small charity, we pride ourselves on funding research in an area that other charities don’t focus as much on. Just 4 per cent of all research funding in the UK is spent on the prevention of breast cancer, so our existence is vital.
We are here for women and men who have important decisions to make about their future, for those who may not otherwise qualify for breast screening, and for those who have real concerns about their risk of developing breast cancer. We are at the forefront of preventative research, where we will stay until we have freed the world of the disease altogether. But, in order to do this, we need to raise more funds – so, in the new year, why not make it your resolution to help support Prevent Breast Cancer?