Prevent Breast Cancer: with your help, we can!
The donation from Dream the Impossible will enable the charity to continue its work researching how to accurately predict and prevent breast cancer. More specifically it will increase the funds available for the charity to invest in ground breaking new research, allowing us to return to prepandemic levels of activity. The below information outlines more about their research strategy.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in the UK and the biggest cause of death in women aged 35 to 49. Their vision is to prevent breast cancer for future generations through preventative testing, screening, lifestyle changes and medical treatment.
They have been working to eradicate breast cancer since 1996 and have achieved huge breakthroughs including the establishment of the National Breast Imaging Academy, identifying previously unknown gene fragments that cause breast cancer, revolutionising screening procedures, creating a targeted preventative diet, and much more.
A major impact of Covid was the need to temporarily close their pipeline of new research projects, in line with other medical research charities who had to do the same. This allowed them to concentrate on completing their existing research work without interruption. They reopened their call for research proposals on 1 April 2022 and projects are currently being reviewed by their scientific research committee.
There are many labs and pharmaceutical companies around the world researching new drugs and treatments for breast cancer. For Prevent Breast Cancer, their philosophy is different – we believe that prevention is better than cure. Anyone who has been through the experience of breast cancer will tell you that treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy can be incredibly gruelling. Prevention and early diagnosis must be the way forward to minimise that trauma and to make sure everyone survives. For that reason, Prevent Breast Cancer is the only UK breast cancer charity funding ground-breaking research solely aimed at preventing the disease for future generations.
Their research is targeted and specialist, focused on four key areas: gene research, early detection and improved screening, risk reduction and preventative drugs.
Our Research Programme
Since 2010 they have spent £3.79 million on ground-breaking research and our scientists have published over 200 research papers in peer review journals since August 2015.
Their work is conducted in partnership with numerous highly regarded research facilities throughout the UK. Regionally, their researchers are part of a collaborative group of scientists and clinicians known as the Manchester Breast Centre. This virtual centre brings together leading experts who share their vision of making breast cancer a preventable disease. They collaborate nationally and internationally with world leaders in cancer prevention, enriching their work with their collective knowledge.
Predicting who is at risk
In the past you will have read that the average risk for a woman in the UK to develop breast cancer was “1 in 9”, or “1 in 8” , or even “1 in 7”. These numbers are in fact a bit misleading. We now know that the risk of an individual woman getting breast cancer is a spectrum.
At one end of the spectrum are those women who are carrying a very high risk gene such as BRCA1 or BRCA2, whose risk can be as high as 85% – which is effectively one in one! At the other end of the scale are women who, as a result of their genetics and lifestyle, have only a risk of around 1 in 50. Most women are somewhere in the middle, and in fact for the average woman who does not carry a high risk gene the risk is probably around 1 in 20.
Thanks to this discovery, they are now in a position where they can fairly accurately predict an individual woman’s risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. The most accurate method involves taking a gene test (for high and intermediate risk genes and genetic variations called SNPs), having a low dose mammogram to assess breast density, and then assessing lifestyle issues. Adding these risk factors together gives a personalised risk prediction – and this work has been one of the most important achievements of our research team over the last decade under the leadership of Professor Tony Howell and Professor Gareth Evans.
Predicting who is at risk of breast cancer is a very important step towards prevention of the disease. Knowing who is at risk gives early warning, allows regular screening, and can lead to an extremely early diagnosis even at the pre-cancer stage. There is now a preventative drug for those at high risk. For those at an extremely high level of risk there is even the option of preventative surgery.
Breast cancer is not caused by any one factor. Rather, it seems to be a combination of the genes you are born with, the environment in which you grow up, and several lifestyle factors. For that reason, prevention research is not focused on any one area – rather, it must cover a number of different areas.
Our research strategy
Their research strategy involves four main areas of research working in parallel. They are called four pillars of research.
The first is gene research. This researches the major gene mutations that can cause breast cancer, and in addition looks at tiny gene variations called SNPs that can also have a major impact on risk. In collaboration with the Manchester Breast Centre, Prevent Breast Cancer scientists are working towards achieving the following by 2025:
- Investigating how gene mutations and variations can affect someone’s risk of developing breast cancer
- To identify all the remaining undiscovered high risk and intermediate risk genes
- To identify all the genetic variations (SNPs*) linked to breast cancer in every ethnic group and community across the country and internationally
- To identify new tests for risk prediction such as polygenic risk scores and new bio-markers.
The second area of research is early detection and screening. Breast screening through regular mammograms already saves lives. The research into risk prediction suggests that screening can be further improved by targeting those at high risk. It also raises the possibility of being able to start screening at a younger age, screening currently starts at 50 years of age in the UK. There are still several problems to overcome, such as the best technology to screen women with high breast density, and those of a younger age, and to detect those types of breast cancer which are difficult to see on a mammogram.
Prevent Breast Cancers goals in this area for the next three years are:
- Identifying new and unique screening methods to ensure early and accurate diagnoses
- To improve the accuracy of screening through new technology
- To improve early diagnosis for women with high breast density and for cancers missed by current technology
- To improve understanding of why breast density promotes breast cancer
- To develop tools that accurately predict an individual’s risk of breast cancer
- To identify more targeted ways to provide breast screening adapted to an individual’s predicted risk
- To improve uptake of screening, collaborating with the NHS and grassroots organisations
- To develop new approaches for screening and prevention in young women before the age of eligibility for breast screening (age 50 in the UK).
The third area of research is in the area of risk reduction. There are several lifestyle factors, which are particularly prevalent in western countries, that increase risk. Research into how these risk factors can be modified could reduce risk for the whole population of the UK. Over the next three years Prevent Breast Cancer goal is to:
- Research into risk factors that can be modified to lower breast cancer risk
- To discover the mechanisms through which known risk factors work to impact breast cancer
- To identify mechanisms for reducing known risk factors such as diet, exercise and lifestyle interventions
- To identify biomarkers of response to risk reducing measures
- To develop a lifestyle management programme that is effective in reducing risk of breast cancer.
The fourth pillar of research is into preventative drugs. There are already three drugs (a daily tablet) approved for breast cancer prevention in the UK – Tamoxifen, Anastrozole and Raloxifene. These can be prescribed for women predicted at high risk, but each has side effects and so our intention is to continue looking for others. They are working to:
- Investigating drugs that can be used to reduce the risk of breast cancer
- To develop models for testing new and re-purposed drugs for the purpose of prevention
- To identify tests of responsiveness to preventative drugs
- To support clinical trials of new or re-purposed drugs
- To promote the awareness of drugs currently available for prevention.