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Irish research on type of breast cancer may have found new treatment approach

One in eight breast cancer patients have a particular form that is difficult to treat.

Professor Darran O’Connor, researcher Dr Louise Walsh and Dr Tríona Ní Chonghaile.
Professor Darran O’Connor, researcher Dr Louise Walsh and Dr Tríona Ní Chonghaile.
Image: Andres Poveda

A NEW POTENTIAL treatment approach for a form of breast cancer that is difficult to treat has been developed by Irish cancer researchers. 

Researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland focused on a form of cancer that affects around one in eight breast cancer patients. 

The research team was funded by the Irish Cancer Society and Breast Cancer Now. This research may pave the way for more personalised treatment methods for this particular form of cancer. 

Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer has been “massively understudied to date”, according to Dr Louise Walsh who was the joint author of the research paper on this method along with Dr Kathryn Haley. 

“No one is unaffected by cancer in Ireland, but research is the tool we have to ensure that more people can overcome a cancer diagnosis in their life,” said Walsh. 

This new treatment method is made up of two different drugs that would block the molecules in breast cancer cells that control cell growth and survival.

This method may be useful for patients who no longer respond to standard treatments, according to the researchers involved. 

It is in its final stages of testing in the lab before it is hoped to advance to clinical trials. 

When this particular form of breast cancer is caught early, treatments with surgery, radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy can be effective.

This strain can be more difficult to detect in the early stages. As the cancer advances, it can spread to other organs and become resistant to chemotherapy and hormone therapy. 

The research team tested the breast cancer cells grown in a lab to see if they were sensitive to an experimental drug that blocks molecules that control cell growth and survival. 

Studies showed that certain cells died following this treatment and other cells were resistant.

Resistant cells were found to have survived by increasing the amount of a growth factor. When this was blocked with a second drug, the resistant cells could be effectively killed.

“New treatment options for this cancer subtype are urgently needed, so this discovery is hugely important for patients who might benefit from a tailored approach to their treatment,” said Head of Research at the Irish Cancer Society Dr Robert O’Connor.  

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