On the pulse 19 December 2012

  • Young Women’s Support Group
  • Study has shown that taking tamoxifen for ten years reduces the number of breast cancer deaths in the second decade after diagnosis
  • The results of an international study show that taking Perjeta in combination with chemotherapy and Herceptin can significantly cut death rates over a three-year period

This issue of ‘On the pulse’ is the last of 2012 and so I would like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers a very merry festive season and fabulous New Year.

The Cancerkin Centre closes on Friday 21st December 2012, re-opening on Wednesday 2nd of January (2013!).

Young Women’s Support Group
Last week we held the last Young Women’s Support Group of 2012, and we were very grateful to be joined by both Tina Kelleher, Clinical Nurse Specialist at the Breast Care Unit at the Royal Free and Lizzie Davies, founder of CanExercise, which helps people to start or get back to exercise after cancer diagnosis or treatment. Tina and Lizzie took questions on a variety of topics, including chemotherapy, lymphoedema and keeping active through treatment.

The session was well attended, including several new members whom we were delighted to welcome to the group, with many commenting on how useful and interesting it was to meet other people with breast cancer, and hear about their experiences.

We would like to thank both Tina and Lizzie for giving their time to speak to our patients.

Our next Young Patient Support Group (for women under the age of 45) will be held on Wednesday 17th January 2012, and our next Patient Support Group will be on  29th January 2013. Lizzie Davies will also be running group exercise sessions at Cancerkin in the New Year. A former oncology nurse, Lizzie’s exercise programmes are specifically designed to support people who are going through treatment or recovering from cancer. If you would like more information on these, or are interesting in attending, please contact Matilda on m.bradford@cancerkin.org.uk or call her on 020 7830 2323.

Study has shown that taking tamoxifen for ten years reduces the number of breast cancer deaths in the second decade after diagnosis
A study published in The Lancet last week has found that ten years of tamoxifen treatment can approximately halve the number of deaths from ER-positive breast cancer during the second decade after diagnosis.

Around three-quarters of women with breast cancer in the UK are diagnosed with oestrogen-receptor positive (ER+) disease, which is driven by the female hormone oestrogen. After any surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, many women receive some years of endocrine treatment with a drug like tamoxifen or with an aromatase inhibitor, to prevent any remaining cancer cells being ‘re-fuelled’ by oestrogen.

The current standard duration of tamoxifen treatment – taken daily for five years – has already been shown to reduce death rates by around a third throughout the first 15 years after diagnosis, as the protective effects continue for at least a decade after the five years of treatment has ended. The new trial investigated whether continuing to take tamoxifen for a total of ten years would reduce the breast cancer death rate still further.

The international study, funded by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council, studied 6,847 women with ER+ breast cancer, half of whom were given tamoxifen for the standard five year period and half who continued with the drug until the 10 year mark.

Throughout the first decade there was little difference in outcome between the two groups, as both were protected by the first five years of treatment. But, after year 10, the additional benefits of longer treatment emerged in the group that continued taking tamoxifen, including reducing the risk of dying during the second decade from breast cancer by a further 25%, on top of the major benefits from the first five years of treatment.

Most of the extra protection from taking the drug longer came after the end of the 10-year treatment period.

In post-menopausal women, tamoxifen increases the risk of endometrial – or womb – cancer. The results showed that the extra risk of dying from this disease was two per thousand women who took tamoxifen for five years and four per thousand women who took tamoxifen for 10 years. The reduction in the numbers of death from breast cancer after 10 years  of tamoxifen were about 30 times as great as the increase in the number of endometrial cancer deaths.

Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK’s head information nurse, said: “This important study adds further clarity to the question about the length of time women should take tamoxifen. Although treatment for hormone receptor positive breast cancer has become more complex in recent years with some women receiving aromatase inhibitors, these results will help in deciding the length of treatment for women who are prescribed tamoxifen alone.”

For more information, click here or here.

The results of an international study show that taking Perjeta in combination with chemotherapy and Herceptin can significantly cut death rates over a three-year period
Data presented at the San Antonio breast cancer conference last week showing that Perjeta (pertuzumab) can prolong the lives of people with advanced HER2-positive breast cancer.

The study found that Perjeta significantly cut death rates over a three-year period, when used in combination with chemotherapy and another drug called Herceptin. Among patients with advanced breast cancer, the chance of dying over that timeframe dropped from 50 per cent to 33 per cent – a relative reduction of a third.

Both Herceptin and Perjeta are only suitable for women with HER2-positive breast cancer, as they both work by blocking signals that HER ‘receptors’ send out to make cells divide uncontrollably. HER2-postive breast cancer accounts for approximately a quarter of all breast cancer cases.

Clinical Director at Breast Cancer Care, Emma Pennery, commented: “These results highlight the potential gains that can be achieved from developing new ways to treat HER2-positive advanced breast cancer.”

“Using two HER2-targeted drugs together could offer an effective new treatment option and will be welcomed by patients with HER2-positive breast cancer and their families.”

Dr Rachel Greig, from Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “This is very promising data and good news for treatment of this type of advance breast cancer.”

“Although it is not a cure it can help women survive longer and significantly extend the time a patient is able to control the growth of their disease. We hope it can be made available to UK patients as soon as possible.”

For more information, please see the Telegraph or Breast Cancer Care




On the pulse 12 December 2012


  • The Big Give Success!
  • Wig Workshops at Cancerkin
  • 10-year follow-up results show that a lower total dose of radiotherapy, delivered in fewer, larger treatments, is just as safe and effective at treating early breast cancer

The Big Give Success!
We are pleased to announce that we reached our £5,000 online donation target! This will all be matched with money from our pledger, the Padwa Charitable Foundation, and the Charity Champions from the Big Give, meaning that, in total, Cancerkin will receive £10,000! An excellent early Christmas present for Cancerkin!

We would like to say a massive “thank you” everyone who donated money, especially our major donors: Chris Saint and Susan Schwartz (from Breast Health International).

Wig Workshops at Cancerkin
Last week, we held another very successful Wig Workshop. We were joined by seven stylists, who gave information and advice on all things hairy, alongside providing practical assistance in styling and cutting wigs. Everyone who attended spoke of how useful they had found the workshop, with one patient commenting, “excellent workshop; I have learnt so much about wigs and feel more confident going to buy one!”

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Magui and Debbie, and their team, who so kindly donated their time to run such an informative and successful day. We will be holding another Wig Workshop in February 2013.

Magui and Debbie also volunteer for ‘Look Good…Feel Better’, and we will be holding our next pampering session on 22nd January 2013. If you are interested in attending either of these events, or just want more information, please contact Matilda on m.bradford@cancerkin.org.uk or call 020 7830 2323.

10-year follow-up results show that a lower total dose of radiotherapy, delivered in fewer, larger treatments, is just as safe and effective at treating early breast cancer
Last week, the 10-year follow-up results of a major Cancer Research UK trial were presented at the 2012 CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. They found that a lower total dose of radiotherapy, delivered in fewer, larger treatments, is as safe and effective at treating early breast cancer as the international standard dose.

Nearly 4,500 women across the UK took part in the trails. The initial five-year results also showed that lower total dose radiotherapy over  fewer, larger treatments was just as safe and effective for patients, and offered important benefits for patients, including fewer trips to hospital and cost savings for the health service. As a result, a shorter treatment course of 15 treatments was adopted in the UK in 2008 (far less than the 25-dose international standard).

This latest 10-year follow-up, funded by Cancer Research UK, confirms these benefits. They found that very few women (around six per cent) experience a relapse of cancer within the same breast, regardless of whether or not they have a shorter course of radiotherapy after surgery.

Professor John Yarnold, chief investigator and professor of clinical oncology at The Institute of Cancer Research, said: “We have shown conclusively that less can be more in breast cancer radiotherapy. Three weeks of radiotherapy is as good as five weeks – as well as being more convenient and less tiring for patients and cheaper for the health service.”

“The risk of breast cancer recurring continues beyond five years, and side-effects of radiotherapy can often develop many years after treatment, so these long-term results provide a very important reassurance that the shorter treatment course is definitely the best option for patients. Some doctors may have been hesitant to change their practice on the basis of five-year results, but these long-term findings should convert those sceptics.”

The same team is now investigating whether even fewer doses of radiotherapy could be just as effective, as part of a new Phase III randomised controlled trial of 4,000 women. The trial will compare the new UK-Standard 15 dose course of radiotherapy treatment, delivered over three weeks, with an even shorter 5-day course, delivered over one week.

Cancer Research UK’s director of clinical research, Kate Law, commented: “What’s really exciting is that, as a result of this trial, women are already benefitting from the added physical and emotional wellbeing of needing fewer hospital visits for their treatment. Minimising the long-term side effects of treatment is becoming increasingly important as cancer patients live longer. We hope that women around the world will now be able to benefit from this improved standard of care.”

For more information, click here.

On the pulse 5 December 2012

The Big Give begins tomorrow (6th December 2012)!

Cancerkin is again participating in the Big Give Christmas Challenge, which gives supporters the opportunity to double any donations they make to Cancerkin. On the 6th, 7th and 8th of December, donations made online to Cancerkin via to our Big Give page can be doubled. For every £1 donated, our generous supporters at the Padwa Charitable Foundation and the Big Give itself will contribute another £1. Our target is to raise £5,000, which means we stand to receive an incredible £10,000.

Every pound counts in this unique fundraising event so we do hope you are able to support us. Matched funds are limited, so please make a note to donate as close to 10am on tomorrow (6th) as possible to make sure you make your generosity goes twice as far. More match funds are released at 10am on the following two days (7th and 8th of December) so you will have more than one opportunity to make your donation.

We are only taking part this year after the Big Give assured us that all the problems with last year’s system have been rectified. Please let us stress that this is the only ‘Big Give’ appeal we will be making to our supporters and there will not be a repeat of all those emails as we were encouraged to send last year.

If you have any questions, or need help making your online donation, please contact Holly, either on h.lovering@cancerkin.org.uk or by calling 020 7830 2323. Thank you in advance for your generosity.

Christmas Tombola

Yesterday, we held our annual Christmas Tombola outside the Atrium in the Royal Free. The prizes for the tombola were some of our best ever – including several meals at local restaurants, cinema tickets, a haircut, photo sessions and boxes of luxury chocolates. The delight shown by so many of the winners was wonderful to see and we thank any local business or supporter who so generously gave us prizes.

As well as the Tombola, we also ran a stall selling donated goods and books and gave out mince pies to bring a little festive cheer! We would like to say a special “thank you” here to Heidi Cleveley, who once again donated so many wonderful items from her store for us to sell.

The Tombola and stall were mobbed all day and so we are so grateful for our brilliant volunteers who keep everything running so smoothly all day.

Thanks to everyone’s efforts, this year was an amazing success and the proceeds raised will be of direct benefit to those diagnosed with breast cancer. We thank everyone who contributed (by either donating goods or helping on the day), and especially the Royal Free Hospital, who so kindly allowed the space to hold the tombola free of charge.

We look forward to seeing you all again next year!

Small study on breast cancer patients has found physical evidence for ‘chemo brain’

A small US study has found that chemotherapy can trigger measureable physical changes in brain function linked with memory loss and lapses in concentration.

Doctors and patients use the term ‘chemo brain’ to describe the mild cognitive impairment sometimes experienced by patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment. As Dr Rachel Lagos, who led the study, notes : “ The chemo brain phenomenon is described as ‘mental fog’ and ‘loss of coping skills’ by patients who receive chemotherapy…because this is such a common patient complaint, healthcare providers have generically referred to its occurrence as ‘chemo brain’ for more than two decades.”

While the phenomenon of ‘chemo brain’ is sometimes reported by patients, researchers have had difficulty in working out whether it is a psychological response to the trauma of having cancer or a direct physiological result of treatment. Previous studies using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have found small changes in brain activity after chemotherapy, but were not definitive.

However, in this study, the US researchers used a combination of two imagining techniques – positron emission tomography (PET) and computed tomography (CT) – which displays the body’s anatomy and structure. By using these methods, researchers were able to assess changes to the brain’s metabolism after chemotherapy, providing more evidence that the phenomenon was linked to treatment.

Data was collected and analyzed from 128 patients who had undergone chemotherapy for breast cancer. The results showed that there are specific areas of the brain known to be responsible for planning and prioritising that use less energy following chemotherapy, with Dr Lagos commenting that when they “looked at the results, we were surprised at how obvious the changes were.”

Martin Ledwick, from Cancer Research UK said: “It’s good to see research into the effects that chemotherapy might have on cognitive function. The more we understand about this condition the better placed we will be to help and support people with it.”

For more information, please see the full article by Cancer Research UK.