Critical gaps discovered in breast cancer research

By | October 2, 2013

It is estimated that around 570,000 people are living with, or after, a diagnosis of breast cancer in the UK, and this number is expected to double by 2030. Breast cancer, therefore, remains a significant challenge. Over 100 specialist breast cancer scientists, clinicians and heath care professionals reviewed a wide range of issues and challenges involved in breast cancer research, prevention and treatment. Through facilitated discussions and consultation, including appraisal from experts and patients, they produced an account outlining ten major gaps and five strategic solutions.

The key gaps that were identified in the paper included; an understanding of the genetic and epigenetic changes in normal breast development and during cancer, how to implement sustainable lifestyle changes through diet, exercise and weight management, and an understanding how to optimise treatment for improved personalised therapy.

In order to make significant progress in addressing these gaps the group put forward some strategic solutions. These include improving clinical trial methodologies including patient involvement, and developing a fully cohesive and collaborative infrastructure to support breast cancer research.

A previous review of gaps in research, published in 2008, helped to shape the direction of breast cancer research and the establishment of the UK’s first multi-centre, breast-specific tissue bank. It is hoped the outcomes of this review will have a similar effect on filling the current gaps in research and practice.

Corresponding author, Professor Sue Eccles, The Institute of Cancer Research said: "We’ve known for some time that breast cancer is not just one disease but our understanding has increased enormously in the five years since the first Gap Analysis in 2008. We now know that breast cancer cells can have different characteristics, even within the same tumour, and these can also change over time. This makes it much more complex to research and is why we need greater collaboration between multi-disciplinary teams and an improved infrastructure, to ensure we are getting the data and tissue samples needed to advance our research knowledge."

Corresponding author, Professor Alastair Thompson, University of Dundee said: "The impact of the Gap Analysis could be immediate as it gives us scientific rationale to change clinical practice. For example, currently, metastatic disease is not biopsied in order to tailor treatment, but this could change the way one in six women are treated and provide hope to women with secondary breast cancer, with limited treatment options."

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