Aggressive breast cancer tumours can be ‘transformed’ into more treatable form, scientists find

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Aggressive breast cancer tumours that are usually only treatable with intensive chemotherapy can be made hyper-sensitive to conventional treatments by a new technique developed by Swedish researchers.

Experts say the approach used opened up new research and treatment possibilities, and it could provide a “real opportunity” to improve the survival chances of the 15 per cent of patients whose breast cancer is resistant to front-line therapies.

In laboratory tests the team from Lund University, showed that disrupting the tumour cells communication with the connective tissue cells of the breast could render it vulnerable to hormone therapy treatments like tamoxifen.

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They used an experimental drug to block a signalling molecule that transmits information between breast cancer cells and surrounding connective tissue.

Detailed analysis of around 1,400 breast cancers showed that women with high levels of the signalling molecule, PDGF-CC, in their tumours had a poor prognosis.

Lead scientist, Professor Kristian Pietras from Lund University, said: “We have developed a new treatment strategy for aggressive and difficult-to-treat breast cancers that restores sensitivity to hormone therapy.

“These findings have major implications in the development of more effective treatments for patients with aggressive breast cancer.”

Most breast cancers are fuelled by female hormones, mostly oestrogen. They generally respond to treatments that either block activity of the hormones or cut off their supply.

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The 10-15% of breast cancers that do not respond to hormone therapy treatments are known to be more aggressive and likely to recur.

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