Five major scientific breakthroughs in the fight against breast cancer

Photo by Rudyanto Wijaya/iStock / Getty Images

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and 2016 has been another big year in the scientific research world. There have been loads of breakthroughs this year, but we thought you’d like to know about five that could, together, have a significant impact on the fight against this awful disease. Researchers, doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals have come together and produced incredible results for patients.

1)      It may be possible to prevent breast cancer. Doctors are always keen to prevent, rather than cure. Researchers are continually testing new medicines designed to both treat, and prevent breast cancer from developing. Women who are at a higher risk of the disease, such as those with a family history pointing to a genetic predisposition, could then be prevented from ever becoming sick. Hormone manipulation, with drugs such as tamoxifen and raloxifene, has now been approved for the prevention of breast cancers, and several others are in the pipeline.

2)      In the very early stages of breast cancer, the abnormal cells haven’t yet mutated in such a way that they can move around the breast, or around the body. When the cells stay where they are, they aren’t a serious problem. This stage is called DCIS, or ductal carcinoma in situ. The switch from the relatively harmless DCIS to a much more dangerous breast cancer is an active research area. Preventing the switch from DCIS to breast cancer could be the key to stopping this disease dead in its tracks.

3)      New imaging techniques are being developed to help detect and characterise a woman’s individual cancer. Imaging a cancer using a new technique called scintimammography allows the detection of cancer cells accurately, without having to have a mammogram. It could also pick up tumour cells before they form a lump that is detectable by previous methods.

4)      Anti-angiogenesis drugs are a potential revolution in the fight against many tumours, not just breast cancer. Cancers contain very hungry cells that need a lot of oxygen to survive and replicate. To make sure they have a good blood supply, tumour cells secrete hormones that encourage the growth of blood vessels. Drugs aimed to stop this from happening can effectively starve the tumour of oxygen and nutrients.

5)      Breast cancer is at its most deadly when it spreads to other parts of the body, especially the bones or liver. Drugs are being developed to stop the spread from the breast to the bones, and to strengthen any bones that are affected to prevent fractures.

2016 is an exciting time in the fight against breast cancer, we have our fingers crossed that 2017 will be even better!