Breast Cancer Survivor Meets Researcher Who Could Find an Alternative Treatment to Chemotherapy

According to a story by the Daily Record UK, Maggie Ritchie found out she was diagnosed with breast cancer and four years later was successfully cancer-free. She attributed the advanced research in breast cancer to her fortunate fate, and recently met one of the amazing scientists who is on the cutting edge of breast cancer research, Professor Kevin Hiom.

More About Breast Cancer

BRCA-mutated breast cancer is a type of cancer that develops as a result of abnormal gene malfunctions in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. The mutations are rare, and affect chances of cancers in both women and men. For women, those who have a BRCA mutation have around 5x the normal risk for developing breast cancer. It also increases the risk of ovarian cancer. For BRCA mutations, genetic testing can be done to test for the BRCA mutation if someone thinks that they may have a higher-than-normal prevalence of cancer in their family. To read more about BRCA-mutated breast cancer, click here.

Professor Kevin Hiom’s Research

The Professor from the University of Dundee is concerned with the BRCA 1 mutation. His research is funded by Worldwide Cancer Research, and it seeks to comprehend the reasons for early onset breast cancer in women 40 and under. Hiom and his research team, understanding that those with early onset breast cancer typically have either BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 mutations, have lately found that Abro, a cell protein, plays an important role in regulating the BRCA 1 gene.

Knowing this, Hiom wants to find out if malfunction or changes in Abro could lead to breast cancer by affecting the function of BRCA 1, even if the gene itself is not faulty.

“If our research is successful, it will help us screen patients who are at risk of early onset disease and monitor them so that any cancers that form can be dealt with early, when they are less dangerous,” Hiom optimistically stated. “It will also help us identify patients that might respond to new treatments for breast cancer such as PARP inhibitors, which can be very successful for patients with defects in BRCA1 and BRCA2 and perhaps in other genes.”

What Maggie Never Knew

While Maggie toured Professor Hiom’s lab, she gathered a lot of information about cancer that she had not previously picked up on while she was focused on her own health and treatment. Importantly, she discovered that cancer occurs when cells do not have the ability to repair damage to their DNA.

Professor Hiom also elaborated on the dangers of chemotherapy as a treatment. “Chemotherapy is a poison that is given in a dose too high for cancer cells to deal with but your normal cells can survive – we effectively poison the tumour to reduce it. Surgery, however, is the biggest curative,” said Dr. Hiom.

A Better Alternative

As a result, Hiom and his team are looking for a healthier alternative to chemotherapy for those with breast cancer. Specifically, they are analyzing the use of PARP inhibitors.

“PARP inhibitors are a very targeted treatment and part of the drive towards personalized medicine,” said Hiom. “We want to fit the right drug to the right people.”

When Maggie was a little more curious about the science, Professor Hiom explained, “We are trying to identify defects in a cell’s ability to repair damage to its genetic material, or DNA, that might increase a person’s chance of developing early onset breast and ovarian cancer.

“There is 70-80 percent chance that the individual with the inherited ‘bad’ gene will develop the disease, which means the cancer often arises earlier in life than in the sporadic form,” said Hiom.

Figuring Out the 60%

According to Professor Hiom, around 40% of those who have inherited early onset breast cancer have BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 mutations. The other 60%, however, is unaccounted for. As a result, Hiom and his team want to specifically pinpoint which genes may predispose breast cancer in the remaining 60% of those with early onset cancer.

“Any number of things can cause cancer – it’s a disease of being alive. Breathing or sunlight can give you cancer. We know that smoking is a big cause and is to be avoided. But, for treating patients, the ‘why’ of cancer is probably less important. The idea is to detect it early and treat it effectively,” Hiom said.

Nonetheless, Professor Hiom and his team are on the cutting edge of early onset breast cancer research, and they are optimistic about what future research may hold. To learn more about this science, click here.

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