Belfast researchers discover potential new way to better tailor treatments for early breast tumours

Dr Niamh Buckley and her team at Queen’s University Belfast, have discovered a way to predict the likelihood that women who are diagnosed with non-invasive breast cancer will go on to develop an invasive form of the disease. This information could enable doctors to tailor the patient’s treatment to their specific needs.

In the UK there are approximately 5,000 cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), the most common form of non-invasive breast cancer, diagnosed each year. It is thought that about half of these cases will develop into invasive cancer although it is currently difficult to predict which.

Dr Buckley’s research has found that DCIS cases carry a range of biomarkers which can help predict the onset of invasive cancer. Tumours with high levels of the biomarkers ‘Ki67’ and ‘p53’ can indicate that the cells are multiplying rapidly and are likely to become invasive. By identifying this risk, women with DCIS who have the higher biomarker levels can have a more invasive course of treatment while women at less risk of invasive cancer could have a more conservative course of treatment.

Dr Richard Berks, Senior Research Officer at Breast Cancer Now said: “Whilst the screening programme has allowed for non-invasive cancers to be detected early and treated accordingly, we don’t yet know which cases are likely to progress into invasive breast cancer or already have co-existing but undetected invasive disease. Research like Dr Buckley’s is vital to developing our knowledge in this area.

“It’s these types of studies that will feed in to the future development of a whole new generation of post-diagnosis testing that could tell a clinician exactly how to treat an individual patient to achieve the best possible outcome for them.”

The findings of this study now require further validation through clinical trials.