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King's College London - Health: More than a medical matter

Cancer drugs may boost breast cancer stem cell growth

31 January 2012

By Maria Botcharova

Appeared in BioNews 642

Two breast cancer drugs, Avastin and Sutent, may inadvertently aid cancer growth, a study in mice suggests. The drugs, designed to reduce the blood supply to tumours, were found to encourage cancer stem cell growth, potentially fuelling the spread of the cancer. The study, published in PNAS, may explain why patients treated with Avastin are at risk of relapsing and why these drugs fail to improve overall survival rate despite initially slowing the tumour's growth.

In the study, scientists at the University of Michigan treated mice that had breast cancer with Avastin and Sutent (chemical names bevacizumab and sunitinib). The drugs stop new blood vessels forming, a process called angiogenesis, so that the supply of food and oxygen to the tumour is reduced.

The cancer stem cells in the tumours of the treated mice were mostly found in pockets of low oxygen concentration, created, paradoxically, by the reduction in oxygen delivery. Cancer stem cells fuel the spread and growth of a tumour and are difficult to eliminate with radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

However, Dr Max Wicha, who led the study, suggests that such anti-angiogenic drugs may still be important in cancer therapy if used in conjunction with other drugs. 'These agents will need to be combined with cancer stem cell inhibitors, an approach now being explored in the laboratory', he said.

Avastin is currently licensed to treat breast cancer in the UK yet not available on the NHS. The UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence advised against its use in February 2011, finding insufficient evidence that it prolongs life. The drug was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for breast cancer in 2008, but this decision was revoked in November 2011. Sutent is not prescribed for breast cancer in the UK or the USA.

Despite the negative findings on Avastin, two studies this week have suggested that it may be useful in treatment during the early stages of breast cancer. Separate studies, performed on 1,200 and 1,900 women, and both published in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at the use of the drug prior to surgery. They both found that Avastin significantly reduced or even eliminated the tumour, making it easier to operate on. These were initial findings - the longer-term survival rate of women given Avastin pre-operatively is as yet unknown.



11 March 2013 - by Dr Daniel Grimes 
The source of stem cell-like cells that can give rise to ovarian cancer in mice has been found, reports a study in the journal Nature... [Read More]
13 August 2012 - by Greg Ball 
Three research groups, each studying a different type of cancer in mice, have published results that support the theory that tumour growth is driven by 'cancer stem cells'.... [Read More]
21 May 2012 - by Dr Rebecca Hill 
The genetic landscape of breast cancer is much more complicated than previously hoped, according to the authors of two analyses of multiple tumour genomes... [Read More]
08 May 2012 - by Kimberley Bryon-Dodd 
A link between modifications to a white blood cell gene and an increased risk of breast cancer could be the basis for a simple blood test to identify women most at risk of developing the disease... [Read More]
23 April 2012 - by Linda Wijlaars 
Breast cancer can be reclassified into ten separate 'diseases' based on its genetic characteristics, according to scientists. Analysis of the DNA and RNA from almost 2,000 tumours identified ten genetically different subtypes of breast cancer with different survival outcomes. The information could be used to better predict the outcomes of the disease, as well as offer tailored treatment to patients... [Read More]

16 May 2011 - by Dr Jay Stone 
US scientists have designed a genetic test which could predict how a patient with breast cancer responds to chemotherapy. Researchers say the test, which works for those with certain newly diagnosed forms of cancer, could help women avoid unnecessary chemotherapy.... [Read More]
07 March 2011 - by Dr Jay Stone 
Scientists at Queen's University, Belfast, have developed a new targeted gene therapy for the treatment of breast cancer.... [Read More]
29 March 2010 - by Sarah Guy 
Researchers at the University of California San Francisco are about to begin a groundbreaking new breast cancer trial designed to speed up the drugs discovery process and cut the delivery time of new personalised cancer therapies... [Read More]
08 March 2010 - by Dr Sophie Pryor 
Scientists have developed a way to identify six key genes which, if faulty, can prevent particular chemotherapy drugs from working in patients with breast cancer. The findings bring cancer therapy one step closer to the promise of targeted treatments for patients, based on the genetic characteristics of their tumours.... [Read More]

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