Breast cancer

07 February 2014

Gene testing matches breast tumours to new drugs

French doctors reported that they had used gene testing to help women with advanced breast cancer get access to clinical trials that may offer a better chance of treating their disease.

French doctors said they had used gene testing to help women with advanced breast cancer get access to clinical trials that may offer a better chance of treating their disease.

The study, the biggest of its kind, improves the chances of getting drugs that, like a sniper's rifle, aim at a specific type of tumour, they said.

Researchers led by Fabrice Andre, a professor at the Gustave Roussy Institute in Paris, unravelled the DNA of cancer cells found in more than 407 women whose breast cancer had spread dangerously to other tissues.

The goal was to pinpoint genes linked with specific types of tumour, and see if these could be matched to new, experimental drugs that were already in the test pipeline.

Suspect genes

Previous work has looked at only part of the genetic code of cancer cells – this one, though, was a trawl across the genome, aimed at identifying as many suspect genes as possible.

The probe found that nearly half of the patients – 46% – did have tumours whose genetic profile offered a potential target for drugs.

Of these, 43 were then enrolled in clinical trials for new drugs corresponding to this profile.

Read: Breast cancer treatment side effects last for years

Thirteen of them responded to treatment.

"Until now, genetic testing has only analysed a limited number of genes to select which targeted drugs are suitable for individual patients and many treatment opportunities may be missed," explained Andre.

"For the first time, we have shown that scanning the whole genome can identify both frequent and rare genomic alterations and can be done in clinical practice with large numbers of women."

The study is reported in a specialist journal, The Lancet Oncology.

Rare type of genetic profile

Despite the success of the gene trawl, the choice of drugs remains meagre for many of the rarer types of breast cancer.

39% of the women had a rare type of genetic profile in their cancer, for which in most cases no treatments – either licensed or in trials – existed.

Read more:
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Breast cancer treatment may lead to hip fracture


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Breast cancer expert

Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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