On the pulse 24 April 2013

  • Patient Support Groups
  • East London Awareness Events
  • Research has shown that women would rather go for screening than risk missing a cancer that could be treated, despite the risk of overdiagnosis

Patient Support Groups
The next Patient Support Group will take place at the Cancerkin Centre on Tuesday 30th April, from 11am to 1pm. We will be joined by Yvette Cowles – comedienne, belly dancer and breast cancer patient. Yvette previously gave an inspirational talk (and belly dancing lesson!) to the Young Women’s Support Group and we are delighted that all our women will now have the opportunity to hear her story (and maybe join together in a little laughing and dancing!).

Another date for your diary is Tuesday 25th June – the date of June’s Patient Support Group – where our guest speaker will be Dr Anmol Malhotra, Lead Imaging Consultant at the Royal Free Hospital. Dr Malhotra will be discussing current and future developments in breast imaging. Please note that the session will start at 2.00pm and finish at 4.00pm (rather than the usual 11.00am – 1.00pm).

If you would like to book your place at either of these groups, or just want more information, please contact Reema on 020 7830 2323 or email r.ved@cancerkin.org.uk.

East London Awareness Events
Anisah and her Awareness Ambassadors, Marisa and Afaf, have been very busy in East London this week, giving awareness talks at both the Wally Foster Community Centre in Hackney and the Lincoln and Brudette Centre in Tower Hamlets.

At the Wally Foster Community Centre, the team spoke to their Forever Young Over 50s Group. 14 women came to hear the breast awareness message and were very animated and engaged in the discussion. Tea, biscuits and a chance for a more relaxed question session followed the talk.

The talk at the Lincoln and Brudette Centre was more informal. Anisah set up a breast awareness stall at the centre’s Parent’s Forum toddler group, and everyone was able to stop by and find out more information as their children played. 12 young women attended and all were very interested in the information, and keen to learn the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

We would like to thank Angie Melaniphy and Tarra Canum at the Wally Foster Community Centre and the Lincoln and Brudette Centre respectively, for inviting us and being such excellent hosts. If you know of a community group that would welcome a talk, or if you just want more information, please contact Anisah on 020 7830 2310 or email eastldn@cancerkin.org.uk.

Research has shown that women would rather go for screening than risk missing a cancer that could be treated, despite the risk of overdiagnosis
Following on from the Independent Breast Screening Review (which we reported on in November 2012), Cancer Research UK funded a study to look at the attitudes of British women towards overdiagnosis in breast screening. The research suggested that although women are surprised to learn that breast screening can lead to overdiagnosis, they would still rather go for screening than take the risk of missing a cancer that could be treated.

The study, published in BMJ Open, carried out focus groups with 40 women to explore their existing knowledge and experience of overdiagnosis. All the women were in the mammography screening age range (aged between 50 and 71) and none had a personal history of cancer or worked in occupations related to cancer or cancer screening. The study included women who had already attended screening and others who had not.

All the participants were given information on breast screening and overdiagnosis – the possibility that a proportion of slower-growing cancers detected through screening might never cause a problem in a woman’s lifetime – before being invited to discuss this information.

The researchers found that although women were initially “surprised and shocked” to discover that breast screening could result in cancers being found that might not ever have needed treatment, the majority of participants remained positive towards breast screening, noting that they preferred the risk of over-treatment and side-effects to under-treatment.

The study also found that many women had difficulty in understanding the concept of overdiagnosis, believing it was mainly an issue for treatment decisions rather than one which would affect their decision about whether or not to go for screening.

Dr Jo Waller, study author, said: “Our research is the first of its kind to look at the attitudes of British women towards overdiagnosis in breast screening.

“We found a widespread lack of awareness of overdiagnosis and a strong view that the information was important, although it rarely changed women’s beliefs about the value of screening or their decisions about attending in the future.

“Our study also highlighted the difficulty of communicating risk information about cancer screening. Population-level data and statistical modelling are difficult even for medical experts to understand, and more so for individuals to use to weigh up the personal pros and cons of screening.”

Dr Hannah Bridges, from Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “Breakthrough believes women should have the full picture on breast screening to help them confidently make a decision about whether to attend, so it’s encouraging to see this study add support to this approach.

“In the future we hope to see better tests to reduce unnecessary treatment, and our researchers are working to develop ways to predict which breast cancers won’t grow and cause problems. But in the meantime, we know that screening saves lives, and evidence shows that, overall, the potential benefits of routine breast screening outweigh the risks.”

For more information, please see the Cancer Research UK and Breakthrough Breast Cancer.

Holly Lovering                                                                                                    25th April 2013

On the pulse 17 April 2013

  • Yvette Cowles joins our Young Patient Support Group for belly dancing and laughter
  • Research has discovered the biological ‘fingerprint’ of breast cancers that spread to the brain
  • Research indicates blocking male sex hormones could be a method of treating breast cancer

Yvette Cowles joins our Young Patient Support Group for belly dancing and laughter
This week, the Young Patient Support Group was joined by Yvette Cowles, a belly dancer who has been diagnosed with breast cancer three times. Yvette is traveling across the country with her one woman show, Sequins on my Balcony, which deals with breast cancer, body image, belly dance and sisterhood through a blend of dance, drama, clowning and lots of sequins. Her show takes place at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in Islington on the 6th and 9th of June and Yvette is generously donating 10% of the profits of these performances to Cancerkin.

Yvette gave a brief and humorous introduction of her own experience with breast cancer (and belly dancing!) to the patients and staff, before everyone was invited to don the colourful, sparkly hip scarves she had brought with her and join her for a spot of dancing! Focusing on having fun as a group of women, she taught us some basic moves, and a lot of fun, laughter and belly dancing took place. She even had all the staff members joining in!

We are so happy to have Yvette join us for a second session at our next Patient Support Group, so all our patients can have the opportunity to hear her and have a go at belly dancing themselves! This session will take place on the 30th April 2013 from 11.00am until 1.00pm. To reserve your place, or just for more information, please contact Reema on 020 7830 2323 or email her on r.ved@cancerkin.org.uk.

Research has discovered the biological ‘fingerprint’ of breast cancers that spread to the brain Research published in Science Translational Medicine has found that breast cancer cells that break off from tumours have a biological ‘fingerprint’ that could allow doctors to spot women whose disease is likely to spread to the brain.

A team of researchers based at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas took cells that had broken away from women’s breast cancers into their bloodstream. Then, in a world first, they grew these cells in the laboratory.

When these cells were analysed, they found that those from women whose cancer had spread to the brain had a unique combination of proteins in their surface. These included human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2+), epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), heparanase (HPSE) and Notch1. Further work in animal models confirmed that cells with this fingerprint were adept at spreading to the brain.

The cells, called circulating tumour cells (CTCs), travel through the bloodstream like airborne seeds. If they cross the brain’s natural defence mechanism – the blood-brain barrier – they can form secondary brain tumours. However, as CTCs are rare, and hard to isolate and grow outside the body, studying them has proved difficult.

Professor Caroline Dive, an expert in CTC research, said that this finding took the field of CTC research to a whole new level.

“Isolating CTCs from patients and growing them in the lab is the holy grail in this field. It’s the first step towards a much clearer understanding of how and why some breast tumour cells survive in the bloodstream and lead to brain tumours.”

The findings from this ground-breaking study could lead to better ways of treating women with the disease, or even to new drugs to stop it spreading.

“Being able to identify which CTCs survive the trip and seed cancer spread is crucial to find new ways to treat the disease,” Professor Dive added.

For more information, please see the Cancer Research UK website.

Research indicates blocking male sex hormones could be a new method of treating breast cancer
Recently, the BBC has reported on research presented at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) which discussed a potential new target to beat breast cancer: male sex hormones, or androgens.

The scientists, based at the University of Colorado, discovered that many breast cancers possess androgen receptors on their surface and that male hormones like testosterone fuel the tumour’s growth. They therefore have designed drugs to block these receptors, which could offer another way to fight the disease.

Experts already know that some breast cancers grow under the influence of female hormones, like oestrogen and progesterone.  This is as some breast cancer cells have receptors, which allow particular types of hormones or proteins to attach to the cancer cell. Tumours that possess oestrogen receptors, for example, are known as oestrogen-receptor positive or ER positive breast cancer and respond well to drugs such as Tamoxifen, which works by blocking the oestrogen receptors to halt these cancers.

This research, however, has suggested male hormones are also important drivers of breast tumour growth, with many breast tumours possessing both oestrogen and androgen receptors. The scientists found that these responded to anti-androgen therapy in the laboratory and so clinical trials are now planned to test this.

Dr Richer, one of the researchers who presented this research, suggested that patients who relapse while on Tamoxifen but who also have androgen receptors might have the most to gain from this new type of treatment.

However, it must be remembered that this research was presented at the AARC and hasn’t yet been published. As Dr Emma Smith, of Cancer Research UK, says: “It’s still early days for this research but there’s growing interest in the androgen receptors role in breast cancer as a potential new route to tackle the disease.”

“Cancer Research UK scientists are among those working on whether targeting this receptor could help treat both those women who develop resistance to other treatments and those who have fewer treatment options.”

For more information, please see the BBC website.

On the pulse 10 April 2013

  • Hyde Park Walk 2013
  • Study which gives new insights into triple negative breast cancers may lead to new approaches in how to monitor or treat this aggressive disease
  • Scientists develop simple blood test to track tumour evolution in cancer patients

Hyde Park Walk 2013
This year’s Hyde Park Walk will be taking place on Sunday 9th June and we would love to see you there. Last year, you managed to raise a staggering £47,000 and we want to do even better in 2013!

Invitations for this year’s Hyde Park Walk are currently being sent out – but if you can’t wait to join in our biggest event of the year, entry forms can be found here. Just fill out the form and return it with your entry fee to “The Cancerkin Centre, Royal Free Hospital, Pond Street, London, NW3 2QG”.



One easy way to collect sponsorship is to use JustGiving, which allows you to set up your own page to share your experience of the Hyde Park Walk 2013. Friends, family and supporters are able to donate online, with the money going straight to Cancerkin. To set up your own page, click here and then follow their instructions.

Study which gives new insights into triple negative breast cancers may lead to new approaches in how to monitor or treat this aggressive disease
Research published in the British Journal of Cancer has shown that women with triple negative breast cancer are more likely to have high levels of the MET biomarker in their tumours.

Scientists from Austria and Greece examined 170 tumour samples from patients with triple negative breast cancer and found that over half these women had high levels of the MET biomarker. Biomarkers (or biological markers) are molecules that can be measured and used to track and monitor cancers. In this case, the levels of MET in breast tumours can be detected. The MET protein plays an important part in cell development but is often faulty in cancer cells.

The study also showed that women with high levels of this biomarker were three times more likely to have a breast cancer recurrence within five years of diagnosis than those with low levels (33 per cent compared to 11 per cent). In addition, nearly 90 per cent of the G3 tumours, which are known to be more likely to spread, had high levels of the biomarker.

Triple-negative breast cancer is a less common, but aggressive, type of the disease which is often hard to treat as it does not contain any of the receptors such as oestrogen, progesterone or HER2 that are targeted by common treatments such as hormone therapy or Herceptin.  Approximately 7,500 women develop triple negative breast each year and it is more common in women of African-America, Hispanic-America and Ashkenazi Jewish descent.

Professor Martin Filipits, study author, said: “Our findings suggest that levels of the MET biomarker in a patient’s breast tumour could be an important way of predicting the best type of treatment for women with triple negative breast cancer.”

“This aggressive type of breast cancer is harder to treat as the tumours don’t have the receptors that the common drugs can target – blocking the growth of the tumour. “

“But knowing which women have high levels of this molecule in their breast tumours could help doctors to adapt the type of treatment they’re given. Levels of this biomarker could also give an idea of how likely the cancer is to come back.”

Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Triple negative breast cancer can be very difficult to treat but this interesting research could open up the possibility of new approaches to monitor and treat this aggressive disease.”

For more information, please see the Cancer Research UK website.

Scientists develop simple blood test to track tumour evolution in cancer patients
Scientists have developed a new way of looking at how tumours evolve in real-time and develop drug resistance, according to a study published in Nature.

This method uses traces of tumour DNA, known as circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA), which is found in cancer patient’s blood. By tracking changes in the tumour ctDNA, scientists were able to follow the progress of the disease as it changed over time, and developed resistance to chemotherapy treatments.

The scientists, based at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute at the University of Cambridge took blood samples  from six patients, with advanced breast, ovarian and lung cancers, over one or two years. By looking for changes in the tumour ctDNA before and after each course of treatment, they were able to identify which changes in the tumour’s DNA were linked to drug resistance following each treatment session.

They were able to identify several changes linked to drug-resistance in response to chemotherapy drugs such as tamoxifen which is used to treat oestrogen-positive breast cancers, transtuzumab (Herceptin) which is used to treat HER2 positive breast cancers and paclitaxel (taxol), used to treat breast, ovarian and lung cancers.

As well as providing an alternative, much less invasive method of collecting DNA than by the current method of tumour biopsy, it is hoped this work will offer new insights on how cancer tumours develop resistance to chemotherapy drugs.

One of the study authors, Dr Nitzan Rosenfeld, said: “We’ve shown that a very simple blood test can be used to collect enough tumour DNA to suggest to us what parts of the cancer’s genetic code is changing and creating tumour resistance to chemotherapy or biologically-targeted therapies.“

“We hope that our discoveries can pave the way to helping us understand how cancers develop drug resistance as well as identifying new potential targets for future cancer drugs.”

Kate Law, director of clinical research at Cancer Research UK, said: “Research is helping to find answers to one of cancers’ biggest questions – how tumours develop resistance to many of our most effective drugs.”

“New techniques like this blood test, which offers a more personalised approach to treating cancers, will help us improve the effectiveness of treatments for patients.”

For more information, please see the Cancer Research UK website.