UCL News


Clinical trial for hereditary breast cancer

2 May 2006

The world's first clinical trial for women with recurring hereditary breast cancer began yesterday, led by Dr James Mackay, UCL Institute of Human Genetics and Health.

The trial compares the effectiveness of carboplatin, a chemotherapy drug already used to treat ovarian cancer, with standard chemotherapy in the treatment of women identified as having a fault with one of the genes linked to breast cancer, BRCA1 or BRCA2.

Dr Mackay said: "This trial is unique because it is the first to treat a specific genetic population of breast cancer patients. It is also unusual for a drug to move directly from studies in the lab to trials with patients so quickly. But, because this is an established drug which is routinely used for the treatment of ovarian cancer, it has moved swiftly into trials and could be available to patients within five years if it proves to be effective."

There is currently no specially tailored chemotherapy for women with mutated BRCA genes who have recurrent breast cancer, so carboplatin, if successful, could hold real promise for BRCA carriers with earlier forms of the disease.

Around five per cent of breast cancers occur in women with a strong family history and more than 75 per cent of these families will have mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2. Women who inherit changes in these genes have up to an 85 per cent chance of developing breast cancer by the age of 70. Despite recent improvements in detection and treatment of early breast cancer, around 25 per cent of women are likely to relapse after initial treatment.

Some populations are at greater risk of having faults in these genes; for instance around one in 44 Ashkenazi Jews carry a change in their BRCA genes compared to less than one in 100 people in the non-Jewish population.

The research coincides with the tenth anniversary of the discovery of BRCA2 by scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research, funded by Cancer Research UK.

Carboplatin was developed at The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in research funded by Cancer Research UK.

The clinical trial is funded by Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Cancer Research UK.