Advanced breast cancer, with metastases to lung and bone, has a very poor prognosis and current treatment protocols for this stage of disease generally result in survival periods of less than two years. One of the reasons for this poor prognosis is that metastatic cancer cells are less responsive to treatment than primary tumour cells. This is partly caused by the fact that the normal cell death process (apoptosis) is repressed by the overexpression of oncogenes such as bcl-2, HER-2, Raf-1 and cdc25c (these oncogenes are expressed more strongly in metastatic tumour cells), which means that the cells fail to die following treatment with chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy.
Using metastatic tumour tissue taken from a patient with advanced breast cancer, Dr. Giannios's team analysed the cells to determine if known oncogenes were being overexpressed. In addition to finding overexpression of the oncogenes bcl-2, HER-2, Raf-1 and cdc25c they also detected overexpression of DNMT1 (a DNA methyltransferase, involved in DNA replication during cell division, and implicated in cancer development) and they also detected methylation of BRCA1 promoter (a process implicated specifically in the development of breast cancer tumours).
The experimental treatment, termed 'chemoradioimmunotherapy', combined chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy in one. The chemotherapy component consisted of vinorelbine-tartrate (a cytotoxic drug used in the treatment of breast (and other) cancers), the radiotherapy component was provided through the addition of high energy radioisotopes, whilst the immunotherapy as
Contact: Stuart Bell
Federation of European Cancer Societies