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Tailoring treatment for breast cancer patients

In the lead-up to World Cancer Day on 4 February we are highlighting the pioneering precision breast cancer research that will move into the Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital.

Personalised and precise cancer treatments underpin the focus of care at the future Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital.

In the below video Professor Jean Abraham talks about the Personalised Breast Cancer Programme, which is a ground-breaking research study that Mei-Ling signed up for when she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.

Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital will bring together researchers from the University of Cambridge and its Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre and clinicians from Addenbrooke’s Hospital, under one roof in a new 'world-class' facility.

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Prof Abraham, who leads the Precision Breast Cancer Institute which will move into Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital explains:

“The Personalised Breast Cancer Programme is a way of looking at genetic information for each individual patient with breast cancer so we’re identifying a barcode of genetic changes that identifies the best clinical management for that individual patient.

“There are a variety of different things we can do to help improve the accuracy of the treatment that we are giving the patient.”

“This type of work forms part of the foundation of our new Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital which focuses not only on clinical care but research.”

Patients who join the Personalised Breast Cancer Programme (PBCP) have their DNA read like a barcode, with the whole genome of their tumour sequenced and the results returned within six to 12 weeks to inform treatment planning.

Part of the video was filmed in the Cancer Molecular Diagnostics Lab at the University of Cambridge where breast biopsy samples along with blood samples from patients on the PBCP are prepared for genomic sequencing.

So far over 1300 patients have been enrolled in the study which began at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge and has been rolled out to Oxford, Colchester and Ipswich, with other sites due to open this year.

A woman in a face mask holding test tubes
Prof Jean Abraham

The Cambridge team is also working with colleagues at the TATA Medical centre in Kolkata to support them in opening a sister study to PBCP in India.

The Precision Breast Cancer Institute will move into the Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital when the new specialist hospital for the East of England opens on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

“It’s important for people to know about the Personalised Breast Cancer Programme and research like this so we can encourage other people who have cancer to get involved in research. It is research like this that changes the clinical outcomes for patients in the future.”

The pilot phase of the PBCP began in November 2016. It was a collaboration between Cancer Research UK and Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust, with over 250 patients from the Addenbrooke’s Breast Unit taking part and becoming the first NHS breast cancer patients to have whole genome sequencing of their tumour as part of their routine treatment in a clinically impactful timeframe.

Test tubes on a shelf

A further £1 million of funding from Cancer Research UK, plus more from US-based philanthropic organisation The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, was announced in 2018 to enrol a further 2,000 patients.

World Cancer Day held every 4 February is the global uniting initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC).

By raising worldwide awareness, improving education and catalysing personal, collective and government action, we are all working together to reimagine a world where millions of preventable cancer deaths are saved and access to life-saving cancer treatment and care is equitable for all - no matter who you are or where you live.

Created in 2000, World Cancer Day has grown into a positive movement for everyone, everywhere to unite under one voice to face one of our greatest challenges in history.