Non-surgical breast cancer prevention may be in reach

Non-surgical breast cancer prevention may be in reach

Illuminate newsletter, Sept 2016
September 2016

Professor Geoff Lindeman, Ms Emma Nolan and Professor Jane Visvader
(L-R) Professor Geoff Lindeman, Ms Emma Nolan
and Professor Jane Visvader have found a non-surgical
option for breast cancer prevention.

Institute researchers have discovered that an existing medication called denosumab could prevent breast cancer in women carrying a faulty BRCA1 gene.

People who have a faulty BRCA1 gene are at high risk of developing aggressive breast cancer.

Women with this gene mutation often choose surgical removal of their breast tissue and ovaries to reduce their chance of developing cancer.

A non-surgical option 

Ms Emma Nolan, a PhD student at the Institute enrolled through The University of Melbourne, and the Institute’s Professor Jane Visvader and Professor Geoff Lindeman have identified the cells that give rise to breast cancers in women who have inherited this faulty version of the BRCA1 gene.

Their findings indicate that denosumab, which is currently used to treat osteoporosis and breast cancer that has spread to the bone, may have potential to prevent breast cancer.

If confirmed in clinical studies, this discovery could provide a nonsurgical option to prevent breast cancer in women with this genetic risk.

Identifying cells that lead to breast cancer

The team studied samples of breast tissue donated by women carrying a faulty BRCA1 gene and were able to pinpoint the cells that gave rise to breast cancer.

“We were excited to discover that these pre-cancerous cells could be identified.” 

"We were excited to discover that these pre-cancerous cells could be identified by a marker protein called RANK,” Professor Lindeman said.

Success from an existing treatment 

Professor Lindeman said the discovery of RANK as a marker of cancer precursors was an important breakthrough, because inhibitors of the RANK signalling pathway, such as denosumab, were already in clinical use.

The research team showed that RANK inhibition switched off cell growth in breast tissue from women with a faulty BRCA1 gene. A clinical trial is underway.

“This strategy could delay or prevent breast cancer.” 

“This strategy could delay or prevent breast cancer in women with an inherited BRCA1 gene mutation,” Professor Lindeman said.

Super Content: 
Animation still

This animation from WEHI.TV visualises research published in Nature Medicine in 2009 by Professor Jane Visvader and Professor Geoff Lindeman.

Video 1:06 

Professor Geoff Lindeman being interviewed

Professor Geoff Lindeman discusses his team's findings

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