On the pulse 27 February 2014

  • Save the date: Cancerkin Hampstead Heath Walk
  • Study shows why women with denser breast tissue have an increased risk of developing breast cancer
  • A recent study has shown a link between obesity and breast cancer risk in men

Save the date: Cancerkin Hampstead Heath Walk
This year, Cancerkin’s annual walk will take place on Sunday 8th June on Hampstead Heath. The change of location follows a suggestion from our Chairman that, as we are based right on the Heath’s doorstep, we should use our local green space! As the terrain of the Heath is more challenging than the paths of Hyde Park the walk will be shortened to ensure that all who want to take part can.

Official invitations will be sent out closer to the date, but if you’re interested in taking part do contact us so we can ensure you get all information on this year’s walk. We welcome teams, so start talking to your friends/colleagues/teammates/fellow club members (delete as appropriate!) about taking part together! To register interest for individuals and teams, contact Holly on h.lovering@cancerkin.org.uk or 0207 830 2323.

Study shows why women with denser breast tissue have an increased risk of developing breast cancer
Scientists at the University of Manchester may have found a key biological mechanism which explains for the first time why women with dense breast tissue have a greater risk of developing breast cancer.

Women with higher breast density have more compacted breast tissue and have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than women with less dense breasts. However, the reasons for this have not previously been known.

By using fibroblasts (a type of structural cell) from high density breast tissue to generate a “molecular signature”, scientists found that a cell communication network called JNK1 presented more activity in fibroblasts from high density breast tissue than lower density breast tissue. Cells are instructed by JNK1 to release chemicals that cause inflammation. This then can encourage the formation of tumours.

It is therefore hoped these findings can lead to improvements in prevention methods by using drugs that target the JNK1 network, and block it from communicating with cells.

Prof. Michael Lisanti, from the University of Manchester, said: “We know that high breast density can greatly increase a woman’s breast cancer risk as well as other factors such as aging, family history and presence of mutations in genes such as BRCA 1 and BRCA 2.

“What no one has fully appreciated before are the underpinning mechanisms at play. Using a bioinformatics approach, we have identified the relevant signalling pathways that make dense breast tissue more favourable for tumour formation.

“This signalling pathway could be used as a biomarker to identify women at higher risk of breast cancer more accurately and earlier than the current methods. Furthermore, there are drugs out there that block these pathways, so that these women could be offered effective chemoprevention.”

For more information, please see Medical News Today and Breakthrough Breast Cancer.
A recent study has shown a link between obesity and breast cancer risk in men
Male breast cancer is relative rare, with approximately 400 men diagnosed each year. Because of this, the causes of male breast cancer are poorly understood.

As with female breast cancers, genetic factors can be involved in males developing breast cancer, although there have also been indications that certain physical and hormonal factors are linked to risk. However, due to the relatively limited patient numbers in individual studies, the influence these factors have has remained uncertain.  The Male Breast Cancer Pooling Project therefore brings together results from multiple studies being carried out across the world looking to look for causes of the disease. This has allowed scientists to combine their data and be far more conclusive in what increases male breast cancer risk.

The latest findings, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI), found that men who were obese were 30% more likely to develop breast cancer. They also found that Klinefelter syndrome, where men have an extra X chromosome, also increased breast cancer risk.

Professor Anthony Swerdlow, Professor of Epidemiology at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and lead of the UK arm of the study, said: “This research brings together data from studies of male breast cancer from around the world to clarify risk factors that have been uncertain.  The results suggest that men who are overweight may be at increased risk of male breast cancer.

“We know that body size can be related to hormone levels.  Also, hormonal factors may be the reason why patients with Klinefelter syndrome, who have comparatively low levels of testosterone and high levels of oestrogen, have raised breast cancer risks compared with other men.  Our results suggest the need to investigate further the role of sex hormones in causation of breast cancer in men.”

Dr Matthew Lam, Senior Research Officer at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, added:

“We know that hormonal factors play a large part in increasing risk of breast cancer in women but how these factors affect risk in men is not well understood.  This study provides new insight into the contributing role of sex hormone levels and physical conditions that control them in male breast cancer.  Exploring this relationship further will be a next step for the Male Breast Cancer Pooling Project.”

For more information, please see Breakthrough Breast Cancer.

On the pulse 20 February 2014

  • Measuring our impact in East London
  • Study indicates mammography does not improve breast cancer mortality rate
  • Early onset of puberty could increase an individual’s risk of developing breast cancer  


Measuring our impact in East London

This week, Victoria and Anisah met with Professor Joy Hinston and Dr Matthew Williamson, both based at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), to discuss QMUL carrying out a monitoring and evaluation project on Cancerkin’s work – specifically Cancerkin’s work in East London.

Dr Williamson is the Head of Educational Development at QMUL and will be heading the project, which will look at the impact of Cancerkin’s East London Programme on patients in East London as well as how successfully the breast awareness message has reached communities there. It will also consider the impact volunteering for Cancerkin has had on our Awareness Ambassadors, all of whom have been recruited from East London Universities.

Study indicates mammography does not improve breast cancer mortality rate

A Canadian study which suggests breast screening does not reduce the number of women who die from breast cancer has been widely reported this week.

The paper, published in the BMJ, covered a 25-year old study. In this, almost 90,000 women between the 40 and 59 years of age were given a physical breast exam and taught how to self-check their breasts. Half of these women were then randomly assigned to have five annual screening mammograms, while the others made up the control group and received no further clinical exams.

In total, 3,250 women in the mammography group and 3,133 in the control group developed breast cancer. However, the mortality rate between the two groups was very similar: 500 women in the screening group died, compared to 505 in the control group.

One of the key arguments against mammography is overdiagnosis, or finding tumours that would never develop into cancers that cause symptoms or death. In this study, the researchers found that mammography overdiagnosed by 22%.

However, as the study authors note, these results will not automatically apply to all countries. The breast screening programmes in the UK are targeted at an older age range and use a three year schedule instead of annual. This is reiterated by Sally Greenbrook, Senior Policy Officer at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, who said: “This is a Canadian study specifically looking at the impact of annual breast screening. In the UK, women aged between 50 and 70 years are invited for breast screening every three years, so while this research is interesting, it’s difficult to see how it applies to the UK setting.

“We know that there is much confusion around the benefits of breast screening and it is essential that all women have balanced information about the risks and benefits of breast screening to ensure they can make an informed decision.”

For more information, please see The Guardian and Breakthrough Breast Cancer.

Early onset of puberty could increase an individual’s risk of developing breast cancer

Data from Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s Generations Study has shown that early onset of puberty could lead to an increased risk of breast cancer.

The Breakthrough Generations Study started in 2004 and will follow more than 113,000 UK women over 40 years. Everyone who takes part completes detailed questionnaires about their lifestyle, as well as giving blood samples to provide information about their genetics, so the genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that may change a women’s risk of developing breast cancer can all be investigated.

This particular piece of research, published online in Breast Cancer Research, considered how puberty could affect an individual’s risk of developing breast cancer. It has been thought for some time that early life events, such as the cellular and hormonal changes that occur during puberty, could trigger the early stages of breast cancer. However, little is known about the way this could affect an individual’s risk of developing the disease.

For the first time, this study has found that developing breasts at 10 years old or younger, compared to age 11 or 12, increases breast cancer risk by 20%. They also found that an increased risk was associated with women who had a gap of two or more years between breast development and their first period.

Dr Matthew Lam, Research Officer at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “Puberty may have an impact on breast cancer risk because during this time there is a rapid increase in the number of developing cells, which are more susceptible to becoming cancerous.  Drastic changes in the level of hormones, such as oestrogen, could also play an important role.  This study shows that the timing of different events during puberty can contribute to an individual’s risk of breast cancer, however, the role of puberty in determining breast cancer risk is incredibly complex and not necessarily associated with any one particular event.

“As we learn more, the implications of this research mean that we could one day have the ability to identify people at a very young age that may be at increased risk of developing breast cancer which would be a huge leap forward.  We also hope to be able to spot new ways to detect early stages of the disease based on these findings.”

For more information, please see Breakthrough Breast Cancer

On the pulse 13 February 2014

  • Young Women’s Support Group
  • Researchers find a gene that could prevent the spread of breast cancer                             


Young Women’s Support Group

Our Young Women’s Support Group met yesterday for a general discussion. Facilitated by Victoria and Reema, the highlight was a visit by one of our “graduates”, who brought her 8 month year old daughter who made a delightful input.  As always, there was a very rich exchange of experiences and views and much laughter.

Researchers find a gene that could prevent the spread of breast cancer

A study published in Cancer Discovery has found a gene that prevents the spread of breast cancer by stopping tumour cells from becoming ‘sticky’.

Using a technique called RNAi screening, a team of scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, switched off more than 1,000 genes in breast cancers grown in mice and monitored the animals for the development of secondary tumours. They then analysed the DNA from secondary tumours that developed in the lungs of the mice and were able to identify several genes that contributed to the formation of these secondary tumours.

The researchers found that one of these genes, ST6GalNAc2, appears to prevent cancer cells from attaching molecules of a protein called gelectin-3 to their surface. Gelectin-3 gives cells their ‘stickiness’ and so the study found breast cancer cells with lower activity in ST6GalNAc2 became ‘sticky’, which allowed them to spread and colonise new sites in the body.

The scientists then reviewed ST6GalNAc2 activity in a large database of breast cancer patients and found that gene activity was particularly low in a subtype of patients with oestrogen receptor negative (ER-) breast cancer. This suggests that the spread of cancer could be slowed in some women with ER-breast cancer by giving them drugs which target galectin-3.

Study leader Professor Clare Isacke, Professor of Molecular Cell Biology at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “Being ‘sticky’ is important for cancer cells because it allows them to spread and invade new sites around the body. Our study found that a particular gene, called ST6GalNAc2, seems to play an important role in preventing tumour cells from gaining this stickiness. Some women with breast cancer may be at higher risk of their cancer spreading to new parts of the body because of the silencing of this gene.

“Our study also underlines the vital importance of understanding the process of metastasis in order to find new treatments for cancer.”

Dr Matthew Lam, Research Officer at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “Almost all deaths from breast cancer are caused by the metastatic, or secondary, form of the disease which equates to 1,000 women dying each month in the UK.  By analysing samples from real patient tumours and looking to see if the ST6GalNAc2 gene was switched on or off, the researchers suggest that the ST6GalNAc2 gene could be used as a marker to select patients with a particular type of breast cancer that would benefit from treatment with a drug that prevents galectin-3 from making the tumour cells ‘sticky’.  Clinical trials have already shown these drugs to be safe and could provide a new treatment option for the prevention of secondary disease.”

For more information, please see Breakthrough Breast Cancer