Characterising tumours for better outcomes

2 min read

An NHS England deal means that patients diagnosed with an aggressive type of breast cancer will be offered a potentially life-saving drug. 

Triple-negative breast cancer accounts for 15% of all breast cancer cases. The cancer cells lack the receptors other breast cancer drugs target and use certain proteins to hide from the immune system, enabling them to grow and spread. 

The drug, pembrolizumab, given alongside chemotherapy, can help shrink these cancers and stop them spreading. It is already used to give some women with incurable triple-negative breast cancer more months of life, and now the NHS will be able to offer it to women with earlier tumours too. It could mean that patients face less-invasive surgery and significantly reduces the likelihood of the cancer recurring or spreading, bringing hope of more lives being saved. 

Dr Karen Noble, our Director of Research, Policy and Innovation, said: “This is excellent news which has been made possible thanks to years of investment in breast cancer research which means that patients’ tumours can be characterised, and treatment personalised accordingly.”

There are more than 120 different types of brain tumours and not only can the tumour type vary between each patient, but even those diagnosed with the same type of tumour may have molecular characteristics that vary. Researchers at our Centres of Excellence are working to identify multiple mutations in different types of brain tumours, and then identify drugs that can influence them.

Dr Noble added: “Since records began in 2002, more than £782 million has been invested in breast cancer research, whereas only £128 million was spent on brain tumour research. That is a difference of nearly £35 million a year over 19 years. It’s unsurprising that the 10-year survival for breast cancer (76%) is significantly higher than for those patients with brain tumours, 12% over five years.

“We are campaigning for parity of funding so that future brain tumour patients will have access to more personalised treatments, as is the case for patients with other forms of cancer, because this is the route to better options and outcomes.”


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