1 in 5 women with breast cancer could be helped by drugs targeting BRCA genes

Credit: Rui Vieira/PA.

Up to a fifth of women with breast cancer may benefit from drugs that are currently reserved for less common cases of the disease, caused by faulty genes.

Faulty BRCA genes are thought to account for between 1 and 5 percent of the 55,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the UK each year. A type of drug called PARP inhibitors can be used to treat these cancers, and were specifically designed to target tumors with defects in these genes.

But [the findings of Serena Nik-Zainal, at the Sanger Institute in Cambridgeshire, UK] suggest 8,000 more people with breast cancer may also respond to these drugs. “Our study shows that there are many more people who have cancers that look like they have the same weaknesses as patients with faulty BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes,” says Nik-Zainal.

PARP inhibitors block the action of an enzyme that helps cancer cells with faulty BRCA genes to survive. Because they specifically target cancer cells, they have relatively few side effects. “A lot of people who could be getting these treatments are not being offered them,” says Nik-Zainal.

[The study can be found here.]

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