Drug find 'incredible' says faulty gene carrier

By Catherine Gaffaney, Gia Garrick

Knowing common medication could curb breast cancer ‘will be big relief for many’.
Tessa Hopson says a lot of women will find it reassuring that there might be a preventive alternative to surgery.
Tessa Hopson says a lot of women will find it reassuring that there might be a preventive alternative to surgery.

For 27-year-old Tessa Hopson, finding out medication may prevent breast cancer was "incredible".

The Te Awamatu woman has a faulty BRCA1 gene, meaning she has a 50 to 85 per cent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer.

New Zealand PhD researcher Emma Nolan and Australian colleagues yesterday published findings which say Denosumab, a Medsafe-approved drug already used to treat osteoporosis, could prove the "holy grail" in countering the dangerous gene mutation, which prompted Hollywood star Angelina Jolie to have her breasts and ovaries removed.

The study, featuring in the journal Nature Medicine, centres on the BRCA1 gene, which is found in all humans and normally expressed in breast cells and other tissue, where they help repair damaged DNA.

Using samples of breast tissue donated by women carrying a faulty BRCA1 gene, Ms Nolan and colleagues Professors Jane Visvader and Geoff Lindeman found cancer "precursor" cells proliferated and were susceptible to damage to their DNA - both factors that help them transition towards cancer.

Lab trials found Denosumab effectively switched off cell growth in the breast tissue and curtailed cancer development.

The new research could have big implications for cancer treatment and offer an alternative to the surgery that many carriers of faulty BRCA genes undergo.

Mrs Hopson believed many women would be excited by the research.

"It's incredible news. For a lot of women out there it will be a sigh of relief because [finding out you carry a faulty gene is] quite scary news to receive ...

"Hearing there could be a solution at the end of the tunnel will be very reassuring for a lot of people."

Mrs Hopson was just 25 when she found out she was carrying a faulty BRCA1 gene.

"It makes me feel empowered to have this information at my age. Compared to many other women and members in my family, I feel lucky to have this information.

"It's a bad thing but it's not going to control my life."

Mrs Hopson isn't considering surgery right now as her chance of developing breast cancer young is low and she would like to have a family first.

However, she said it was encouraging knowing there might be a preventative alternative to surgery.

"For a lot of women I think [the medication] would be very attractive as it would be an easier option than going through surgery.

"We're in 2016. Imagine what can be done in 10 years time."

- NZ Herald

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