A cancer-related protein can be used to predict whether a breast cancer patient will benefit from hormone therapy or chemotherapy, allowing doctors to decide on the best treatment option for each patient, a study lead by a New Zealand scientist has found.
The research, led by Dong-Xu Liu, Associate Professor at AUT University, was published in the British Journal of Cancer today and has the potential to save lives.
Liu, along with collaborators in the United Kingdom, Singapore and China, used information collected on breast cancer patients and their treatment at the Nottingham University Hospitals between 1986 and 1999 to look at how the protein, secreted hominoid specific oncogene (SHON), related to the survival of patients treated with hormone therapy drug tamoxifen or anthracycline-based combination chemotherapy.
The study found that the presence and characteristics of SHON could allow doctors to predict whether hormone therapy or chemotherapy would work in breast cancer patients or whether a different treatment altogether was needed.
The study was funded by a $360,000 in grants from the Breast Cancer Research partnership of the Health Research Council, Breast Cancer Cure and Breast Cancer Foundation NZ.
Breast Cancer Cure trustee Fay Sowerby said the findings were "absolutely thrilling" and had the potential to save lives.
"Clinicians, for a number of years, have been saying to us, 'tell us who's at risk, who we need to treat and who's going to get the most benefit from it'. This does all three," she said.
Bio-markers like SHON allowed doctors to save patients the time and trauma of trying treatments which were not effective for them by knowing from the outset which would work best, she said.
A breast cancer survivor herself, Sowerby said the findings would give patients confidence in their treatment even before it had started to work.
Liu said the study may have found a way to improve the efficacy of hormone therapy which was the most common treatment for the two-thirds of breast cancer patients with hormone receptor-positive cancer.
"Breast cancer affects one in nine New Zealand women in their lifetime and accounts for almost half of the cancers in NZ women. Our findings would allow breast cancer patients to receive treatments that are the most appropriate to their characteristics, therefore improving treatment response and saving lives," he said.
Annually there are 2.1 million new cases of female breast cancer around the world and despite improved treatment options it is understood that 626,000 women still die from the disease each year. In New Zealand, about 3000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
Liu said the next step was to apply for funding for a feasibility study before conducting a randomised control clinical trial.
Breast Cancer Foundation NZA chief executive Evangelia Henderson said biomarkers and tests that accurately predicted how well a patient would respond to breast cancer treatment would play a huge role in reducing deaths.
"We look forward to seeing what happens next as a result of Dr Liu's excellent study."