About half of women with a mutated BRCA gene — which makes their likelihood of developing breast cancer skyrocket — will get cancer by the age of 70. At the moment, women with the mutated BRCA1 gene can opt to either have their breasts removed in order to prevent cancer from occurring or take a wait-and-see approach and get screened for cancer often.
Luckily, a team of researchers decided this wasn’t good enough — women with the BRCA1 gene needed more non-surgical options for preventing breast cancer.
Scientists studied breast tissue samples donated by women with the BRCA1 gene. They observed the particular cells that are most likely to become cancer down the road and focused specifically on what they could do about curbing the reproduction of those cells.
In their research, the team found that the osteoporosis drug denosumab could fulfill that role. This drug, which is normally used to treat bone loss problems in elderly patients, may also be useful for stopping the growth of cells that could turn into cancer. One scientist likened the findings to the “‘holy grail’ of cancer research.”
“We are very excited by these findings,” says Geoff Lindeman, a medical oncologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, “because it means we’ve found a strategy that might be useful to prevent breast cancer in very high risk women, particularly BRCA1 mutation carriers.”
The drug is still in the trial stage as a method of prevention for breast cancer and is being tested in mice and used in small human trials. It will need to be tested in large human trials before it can be considered a viable preventative measure for women with the BRCA1 gene. The researchers also hope their efforts will pave the way to other treatments that target the same cells that are precursors to cancer.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?