Osteoporosis drug could stop breast cancer in women with the Angelina Jolie BRACA1 gene

For women with the BRACA1 gene there is new hope as a trial will soon be underway to see if an osteoporosis drug can prevent cancer.

In Australia more than 15,000 women have the BRACA1 gene which places them with a 70% chance of developing breast cancer by the age of 80. The only way to prevent cancer in these cases is to have a double mastectomy.

The international trial (which has received funding by the National Health and Medical Research Council) will run in Australia, the US, UK, Austria, Germany, Israel, and Spain. The trial aims to recruit over 2,900 women aged between 25 and 55 who have the BRACA1 gene mutation and are breast and ovarian cancer free.

The double blind placebo controlled trial will involve giving women either the osteoporosis drug denosumab or a placebo to see whether the drug prevents or delays the occurrence of breast cancer over a five-year period.

Australian researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall institute of Medical Research discovered that the trouble cells that cause cancer in BRACA1 mutation carriers are activated by a receptor called RANK ligand.

Their research found that tumours could be prevented in human breast tissue by switching off this receptor.

Professor Geoff Lindeman from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research says that "this is potentially a very important discovery for women who carry a faulty BRCA1 gene, who have few other options. Current cancer prevention strategies for these women include surgical removal of the breasts and or ovaries, which can have serious impacts on people’s lives."

A second trial run by Breast Cancer Trials is working towards improving progression free survival rates for women with ER positive or HER2 negative metastatic breast cancer.

The trial has just received a $3.5M grant to determine if there is a benefit for women who test positive to the PIK3CA mutation to be treated with the drug alpelisib.