Time to act on secondary breast cancer

It’s time to act on secondary breast cancer which is the stage when breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body and sadly becomes incurable. It’s the main cause of the 11,500 deaths from the disease every year in the UK.

With secondary breast cancer still taking lives on a heart-breaking scale, we need to attack it from all angles. We need to understand what causes the disease to spread, and find newer and kinder treatments for primary breast cancer that can stop more patients developing secondary tumours.

We need to understand what causes the disease to spread, and find newer and kinder treatments for primary breast cancer that can stop more patients developing secondary tumours.

And urgent investment in research focused on developing new treatments for secondary breast cancer is absolutely essential if we are to finally ensure that everyone diagnosed with breast cancer lives.

Preventing the spread of the disease and finding ways to treat it when it does remain two of the greatest challenges facing breast cancer researchers. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we’re currently funding some of the world’s brightest minds to find answers and give more families hope for the future.

Here, we take a look at what we all need to do to make this happen, and  chart some of our scientists’ recent progress.

Predict risk of breast cancer spread

We want everyone with breast cancer to receive the most appropriate treatment for them, and to help achieve this, we need to know who is most at risk of their breast cancer spreading. Our scientists have found a way to identify breast cancer patients with cancer cells in their lymph nodes who are more likely than others to develop secondary tumours. This could lead to more intensive treatment for those who really need it, whilst others could be safely spared treatments that may not benefit them.

Bring new treatments forward

We desperately need to find new treatments so that secondary breast cancer can be controlled and contained – and maybe even eradicated. Through the Breast Cancer Now Catalyst Programme, in collaboration with Pfizer, we’re funding a clinical trial testing a drug called crizotinib in patients with secondary lobular breast cancer. This follows the discovery by our researchers that crizotinib, which is currently used to treat lung cancer, can kill breast cancer cells with a particular genetic defect commonly found in thousands of patients with lobular breast cancer.

Tailor therapy to individuals

Whilst developing new treatments is important, it’s also vital we continue exploring new ways to use the treatments we already have more effectively. Researchers part-funded by Breast Cancer Now reported that women with secondary ‘triple negative’ breast cancer who carry a BRCA mutation benefit more from a platinum chemotherapy drug called carboplatin than from standard docetaxel chemotherapy. This switch to carboplatin delayed the progression of the disease by 2.4 months. Because of this study, the European Society of Medical Oncology updated their clinical guidelines, so that more women could benefit from treatments that work best for them.

Ensure fair access to drugs

Patients won’t benefit from research unless we ensure they have fair access to new and effective treatments. After years of campaigning from patients and Breast Cancer Now, women in England and Wales with secondary HER2-positive breast cancer are now able to access Perjeta on the NHS, following an agreement between NHS England and the drug’s manufacturer Roche. Perjeta is a life-changing drug that can offer women with HER2-positive secondary breast cancer nearly 16 extra months of life on average compared to other treatments. However, despite being available in England and Wales, women in Scotland still do not have routine access to this drug – so the campaigning continues north of the border and we urgently need your support.

It’s time to act

There has been some amazing progress in breast cancer research in recent years. But with one person dying from breast cancer every 45 minutes in the UK, there is still so much more to do. And with the number of deaths from the disease set to rise in the next few years after decades of decline, it’s time to act.

Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day, which took place this weekend, reminds us all of the magnitude of this challenge – but it also provides the opportunity to show solidarity with the thousands of families affected by secondary breast cancer. There is so much more to do in secondary breast cancer – finding better ways to support patients, and, through research, developing new treatments that give better quality of life and more time to live.

Our aim is that by 2050, everyone who develops breast cancer will live, and live well. If we all act now, we truly believe we can make this vision a reality.

Dr Richard Berks

Dr Richard Berks

Dr Richard Berks is Senior Research Communications Officer at Breast Cancer Now.
Dr Richard Berks

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