Australian researchers have discovered that an existing medication could have promise in preventing breast cancer in women carrying a faulty BRCA1 gene, who are at high risk of developing aggressive breast cancer. Currently, many women with this mutation choose surgical removal of breast tissue and ovaries to reduce their chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Notably, in May 2013, actress Angelina Jolie, who reportedly had with an estimated 87 per cent risk of breast cancer and 50 per cent risk of ovarian cancer, chose to have d2ouble mastectomy with breast reconstruction. Women with mutation have an approximately 65% cumulative risk of developing breast cancer by age 70, the researchers note, based on a 2003 combined analysis of 22 studies.
A drug option
But now, another option may be be possible, as 16 scientists (most in Australia) report in an advance online paper in Nature Medicine this week. The researchers discovered that pre-cancerous cells could be identified by a marker protein called RANK. A concurrent study led by an Austrian group had also identified the importance of RANK. This was an important breakthrough, they said, because an inhibitor of the RANK signalling pathway was already in clinical use: the drug denosumab. The researchers suggest the drug may have potential to prevent breast cancer from developing. If confirmed in clinical studies, this would provide a non-surgical option to prevent breast cancer in women with elevated genetic risk.