On the pulse 31 October 2013

  • Patient Support Group Meeting
  • Christmas at Cancerkin
  • Test developed to identify seven classes of breast cancer

Patient Support Group Meeting
On Wednesday 30 October Mr Tim Davidson ChM, MRCP, FRCS (Cancerkin’s Medical Director) Consultant Breast and General Surgeon, Honorary Senior Lecturer in Surgery at the Royal Free Hospital and chair of the General Surgery group at the Royal Free came to a packed Patient Support Group meeting to run a Question and Answer session about breast cancer. The topics covered included the BRACA 1 and 2 genes associated with breast cancer and when testing for them is and is not appropriate; the risk factors for breast cancer; the importance of breast self-examination and what to look out for; the different policies and practices of hospitals as regards post-operative review and discharge; the value of complementary therapies and exercise in aiding recovery from breast cancer treatment; and the risk of lymphoedema. The meeting very much appreciated Mr Davidson’s approach which enabled a wide range of topics of interest to patients to be explored.

Christmas at Cancerkin
Christmas is creeping ever closer and a date has been set for our annual Christmas tombola! It will take place on Wednesday 4th December 2013, outside the Atrium in the Royal Free Hospital. We are looking for volunteers to help run the stall as well as any suitable new items for the tombola. We are also running a book stall and so would welcome any books in good condition that anyone wishes to donate. If you can help us with either of these, please contact Holly, either by emailing h.lovering@cancerkin.org.uk or by calling us on 020 7830 2323.

We are also selling Christmas cards again, and it’s never too early to get organised! We have three festive designs, each of which we are selling, very reasonably, at £3 for a pack of 10. To see the selection, or to purchase cards, simply drop into the Cancerkin Centre anytime Monday-Friday, from 9am – 5.30pm, and we will be happy to help.

Test developed to identify seven classes of breast cancer
Scientists from the University of Nottingham have developed a test that identifies seven classes of breast cancer, which could help doctors to tailor treatment better and increase survival rates.

Breast cancer is a biologically complex disease and each tumour can have very different properties. Last year, researchers found that breast cancer can be divided into ten different subtypes, depending on the genetic make-up. However, these can only be identified using detailed genetic profiling, which is costly and impractical for most patients.

This new method screens for ten key proteins in tumour samples that identify seven different biological types of breast cancer. The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, looked for the “signature” in each class of cancer in over 1,000 tumour samples. They found that 93% of the samples fitted well into one of seven classes, with the remaining 7% being harder to categorise. The categories were then verified in another 238 tumour samples.

These seven classes were defined by different combinations and levels of ten proteins found in breast cancer cells, which include two proteins already routinely identified in breast cancer cells: the oestrogen receptor and HER2, along with others that are not currently tested for, such as p53, cytokeratins, HER3 and HER4.

From this information, the researchers were able to develop a diagnostic test using these seven distinct classes, which could be ready for use in as little as two years. The technology needed to measure these proteins already exists in most pathology laboratories across the UK.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of the Breast Cancer Campaign, said: “We need to ensure the life-saving and life-extending treatments we already have in the clinic are used more effectively – directing the right treatments to those who will benefit, and sparing others from unnecessary side effects, so that by 2050 we can achieve our ambition to overcome breast cancer.

“This new test could be a realistic step towards making the holy grail of personalised medicine a reality, offering hope to the 50,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK every year.”

However, Dr Emma Smith, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, highlighted the need for further study: “Research and new cutting-edge technologies are beginning to give us a glimpse of what is on the horizon in this area.

“But it’s not clear whether this set of biomarkers will give doctors any more useful information than the tests already in place.

“We would need results from further studies or clinical trials to say for certain whether this approach could be a good way of identifying different treatments and improving survival for women with the disease.”

For more information, please see BBC Online and Breast Cancer Campaign.


On the pulse 24 October 2013

  • Breast Awareness at Tower Hamlets College
  • Study shows young black women are at greater breast cancer risk than young white women

Breast Awareness at Tower Hamlets College
Last week, the East London team set up a breast cancer awareness stall at Tower Hamlets College, as part of their Breast Cancer Awareness Month event. The team distributed information on breast cancer, and taught the students that stopped by the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and also how to self-check their breasts.

Tower Hamlets has one of the worst one year breast cancer mortality rates in the UK and all those whom Cancerkin spoke to were shocked to learn of the prevalence across the UK and the survival rate in their local area. Most of the students we spoke to knew very little about  the importance of being breast aware and were eager to learn more. Many said they would pass  the message on to their families, as well as making sure they checked their own breasts regularly.

We would like to say a big “thank you” to our Awareness Ambassador Janet Omandi and the team at Tower Hamlets College for organising the event.

If you know a community group, school or organisation that would benefit from a free breast cancer awareness talk, please do contact Anisah on 0207 830 2310 or eastldn@cancerkin.org.uk to find out more.

Study shows young black women are at greater breast cancer risk than young white women
A study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, has found that young black women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have worse outcomes than their white counterparts. There was no significant difference in overall survival or breast cancer reoccurrence between white and Asian women.

The researchers considered 2,915 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer aged 40 and under. This age group is not eligible for breast screening and all the women in the study were treated on the NHS, eliminating a number of potentially confounding socio-economic factors.

The study confirmed previous research that showed that black women tend to have more aggressive tumours and also found black women have a higher risk of recurrence than their white counterparts. They were also more likely to be diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which is more challenging to treat as it does not respond to hormone therapy. Only 71 percent of black women survived for five years after diagnosis, compared with 82 percent of white women.

Even when the researchers adjusted their findings to take into account of individual factors such as body mass index, tumour size and whether the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes, young black women were still found to have poorer relapse-free survival compared to young white women.

This suggests other factors, including biological differences, a lower awareness of symptoms or even cultural differences could be contributing to the problem. For example, language barriers could be preventing recent immigrants from accessing health care while other research has suggested that black woman are less likely to self-check than other ethnic groups.

Dr Ellen Copson, one author of the study, highlighted the need for further research to “pin down the exact cause or causes, so we can tackle this issue”.

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health information, said: “It’s worrying that ethnic background may be a factor influencing a woman’s chance of surviving breast cancer. We know that some ethnic populations carry higher genetic risks of getting certain types of breast cancer, but if this difference is down to symptom awareness or access to healthcare, that is particularly concerning.

“More research is needed to look into the reason why young black women have higher rates of recurrence, but in the meantime women of any ethnic background should be aware of what is normal for their breasts and get any new lumps or anything unusual checked out by their GP. More often than not breast changes won’t mean cancer, but it’s best to get any unusual changes checked out.”

For more information, please see the Telegraph, BBC Online or NHS Choices.

On the pulse 10 October 2013

  • Hysteria
  • Breast Cancer Awareness Stall
  • Study shows walking for an hour a day can reduce the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women

We were joined at the Hampstead Theatre this week by Cancerkin friends and supporters for our annual theatre event, in honour of breast cancer awareness month.  The play, ‘Hysteria,’ starred Antony Sher and definitely lived up to its excellent reviews.  The play’s setting, in Freud’s Hampstead study, could not have been more appropriate and the acting was outstanding. The combination of a brilliant play and the atmosphere the Cancerkin supporters brought made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Some of the cast also very kindly met with us afterwards, which really did finish the event perfectly!

We would like to thank Hampstead Theatre, particularly John Hurley and Joanne Boniface, for all the support they gave us; the evening went so smoothly because of all their help and support.   We would also like to thank the cast members who met us after the show. Finally, we would like to say a special thank you to David Bishop, a Royal Free photographer who kindly covers so many of our events and promotions. The photos of the evening will be up on our website and facebook page very shortly, so please do keep an eye out for them!

Breast Cancer Awareness Stall
We also held our annual breast cancer awareness stall this week, to help pass on the breast awareness message and teach women how to check their breasts. We set up a stall outside the Atrium of the Royal Free Hospital, and spoke to members of the public, patients and hospital staff about the importance of regularly checking their breasts. We also handed out free copies our brochure “Being Breast Aware” and explained our support services to those interested.

Thanks to all our fantastic helpers we were able to speak to many women about the importance of checking their breasts, while also clearing up some myths about breast cancer. We are very grateful for all the volunteers who gave up their time to help us.

Study shows walking for an hour a day can reduce the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women
A study, led by the American Cancer Society and published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, has found that walking for an hour a day can significantly lower the chance post-menopausal women developing breast cancer.

The study followed 73,615 women, recruited in 1993 and 1994 and aged 50 to 74, for seventeen years. Each woman completed a questionnaire on her health and activity levels, including how much time she participated in activities such as walking, swimming and aerobics and how much time she spent sitting watching television or reading.  They then completed the same questionnaires at two-year intervals between 1997 and 2009.

47 per cent of the women in the study said walking was their only recreational activity. Those who walked for at least seven hours per week had a 14 per cent lower risk of breast cancer compared with those who walked three or fewer hours per week. While previous studies have shown frequent exercise reduces the risk of breast cancer, the American Cancer Society team said this was the first time reduced risk was specifically linked to walking.

Dr Alpa Patel, a senior epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, Georgia and study leader, said: “Given that more than 60 per cent of women report some daily walking, promoting walking as a healthy leisure-time activity could be an effective strategy for increasing physical activity amongst post-menopausal women.

“We were pleased to find that without any other recreational activity, just walking one hour a day was associated with a lower risk of breast cancer in these women.

“More strenuous and longer activities lowered the risk even more.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Campaign, said: “This study adds further evidence that our lifestyle choices can play a part in influencing the risk of breast cancer and even small changes incorporated into our normal day-to-day activity can make a difference.

She added: “We know that the best weapon to overcoming breast cancer is the ability to stop it occurring in the first place. The challenge now is how we turn these findings into action and identify other sustainable lifestyle changes that will help us prevent breast cancer.”

For more information please see BBC Online or Breast Cancer Campaign.