On the pulse 31st October 2012

  • Patient Support Groups at Cancerkin
  • New research indicating how breast cancer cells spread could lead to the development of drugs to combat cancer spread
  • Study indicates that by 2040, more than one million women over the age of 65 in the UK will be living with breast cancer

Patient Support Groups at Cancerkin

This week at Cancerkin we were delighted to have two fantastic speakers at our October patient support groups; on Tuesday, Cheryl Berlin, the lead cancer genetic counsellor at the North East Thames Regional Genetics service spoke to our Patient Support Group, and on Wednesday Dr Alison Jones, Consultant Medical Oncologist at the Royal Free spoke to our Young Women’s Support Group about particular issues affecting young women with breast cancer.

Cheryl’s talk focused on the genetics of cancer, particular the risks associated with the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes, before discussing the benefits, appropriateness, implications and limitations of genetic counselling.

Dr Alison Jones MD, FRCP led a truly excellent meeting, which focused on a variety of issues that particularly affect young women with breast cancer, including early onset menopause and the risks associated with pregnancy and IVF. She gave a scintillating talk, followed by a very informative question and answer session. All the women were incredibly appreciative of her time, particularly praising the way she brought together all of their concerns and her honest and comprehensive answers to their questions.

We would like to thank both Cheryl and Alison again for giving such interesting and well-received sessions. The feedback from both has been so overwhelmingly positive and we are delighted that you donated your time to come speak to our patients. A massive “thank you” from all at Cancerkin!

New research indicating how breast cancer cells spread could lead to the development of drugs to combat cancer spread

Breast cancer cell spread by “digging their escape route”, according to research published in the Journal of Cell Biology last week.

Scientists at the Cancer Research UK’s Beatson Institute in Glasgow have found that breast cancer cells puncture holes into neighbouring tissues and crawl through the spaces they create to spread around the body.

Their research indicated that there are high levels of a protein called N-WASP in breast cancer cells. This protein helps form branches with sharp points – called pseudopodia – on the cell surface by rearranging the cell’s internal ‘skeleton’, made of a protein called Actin.

The pseudopodia can grab onto and poke holes into the extracellular matrix, the supporting tissue in-between cells. The team also showed that enzymes attach onto the protrusions and dig into the extracellular matrix, creating larger spaces. Cancer cells invade their surrounding environment by a combination of pushing and pulling into the newly created spaces. This movement was captured for the first time in 3D on video (shown on this informative Cancer Research UK video summary).

The scientists showed that removing N-WASP from cells resulted in much blunter protrusions, to which fewer enzymes became attached. This reduced the ability of the cells to puncture their surrounding extracellular matrix and spread.

Dr Laura Machesky, lead author, said: “Our exciting results reveal a completely new process by which cells can break away from a tumour to invade surrounding spaces and spread around the body. We found that cells assemble specialised structures, with the ability to hold onto the surrounding tissue matrix and dig tunnels into it, which they can then crawl through.”

“Our research suggests that N-WASP is a promising target for the development of drugs to combat cancer spread. We were particularly intrigued because blocking N-WASP activity didn’t affect the healthy cells, so we think that N-WASP could be specifically targeted to prevent cancer spread.”

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information manager, said: “This important research reveals fresh understanding of how cancer spreads, which will help scientists to translate discoveries into effective treatments to beat cancer.”

To find out more, see here.

Study indicates that by 2040, more than one million women over the age of 65 in the UK will be living with breast cancer

Research funded by Macmillan Cancer Support has indicated that by 2040 there will more than one million women in the UK living with breast cancer aged 65 and over. This is almost quadruple the 340,000 older women currently living with the disease.

The research, conducted by King’s College London and published in the British Journal of Cancer reveals that by 2040, nearly three quarters of breast cancer survivors will be 65 and over; an increase from 59% today to 73% in 2040.

The study used existing information about trends in cancer rates, cancer survival and changes in the population in the UK to create a model to predict how these numbers would change over the next three decades.

Ciaran Devane, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “The NHS needs to take heed of these figures. It is already struggling to provide adequate care for older breast cancer patients. We need to change the way we care for older breast cancer patients now – so we are prepared for such a dramatic increase in numbers.”

The research also showed that the projected increase in breast cancer among the over-65s is almost double the increase for younger age groups. This increase in the older age groups seems to be mostly due to people surviving longer with cancer, and the corresponding expected increase in the elderly population.

The model used by the researchers is based on the assumption that current trends in breast cancer will remain the same, which may not be the case. Changes in screening, risk factors or treatments could affect number of cases, or rates of diagnosis and survival.

Jane Hatfield, Director of Policy and Research and Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “we know that our aging population, better diagnosis and advances in treatment mean that more people will be living with breast cancer in the future.”

“However, today’s prediction that this could rise to over one million people by 2040 is a startling wake-up call for the scale of care and support that will be needed by so many… This report is the latest clear demonstration of the need for breast cancer treatment and support for older patients now and in the future to be seriously addressed.”

For more information, see here, here and here.