18th August 2022 – Rare Cancer in the News

Professor Andy Hall looks at some recent news about the impact PARP inhibitors could have on breast and ovarian cancer patients who are BRCA positive. 

Today I want to talk about some exciting new discoveries in breast and ovarian cancer, particularly rare forms associated with mutations in particular genes. 

The genes in question are associated with something called ‘BRCA’. BRCA is a mechanism by which normal cells detect abnormalities in DNA. It’s very important that we have those mechanisms because damage in DNA occurs all the time. In normal people, BRCA forms an important part of that ‘policeman’ function, that way of detecting abnormalities within the genes of every cell. Unfortunate patients who have this mutation have a tendency to have more mutations than they should do. That leads to, in some rare cases, ovarian and breast cancer, for example. 

Several years ago, it was discovered that those abnormalities actually cause those cells to have an Achilles’ heel – a way in which drugs could be targeted specifically at those patients’ cells in a way which doesn’t affect normal cells. A group of drugs called PARP inhibitors were developed and have showed a lot of promise in both breast and ovarian cancer, particularly in patients who have cancer associated with mutations in BRCA genes. 

In the papers this week, there’s exciting, preliminary work, which shows that treatment with these PARP inhibitors actually prevent the cancers occurring over time. It’s a great example of how modern research is helping patients with rarer forms of cancer and shows that this is an exciting area for science at the moment and one in which scientists, both in drug companies and academic units are really excited about pursuing further. Let’s watch this space and hope that this develops into a really solid discovery in the future. 

Thank you

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