CANCER RESEARCH UK scientists have found that a test, already used in breast cancer diagnosis, can also predict who will and who won’t benefit from commonly used chemotherapy drugs.

The research shows that women who have a duplication of chromosome 17 in their tumour will benefit from anthracycline drugs, while others can be spared the side-effects of the treatment. This group of chemotherapy drugs includes epirubicin which has already been shown to improve women’s survival by a third.

This research is important as both the chemotherapy drugs and the test are already available, so a change in clinical practice could happen in the very near future.

The results of the British study are being presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium today.

Professor John Bartlett, a Cancer Research UK funded scientist from the University of Edinburgh, said: “We were looking for markers to help decide when to give women this type of chemotherapy using a test that is already part of patients’ treatment.

“From previous trials we know that women who are treated with these drugs do better and are less likely to relapse. But, unless we know the drugs will be of benefit, we don’t want to give them to everyone because of the unpleasant side effects.”

The researchers took small sections of tumours from over 2,500 women who had taken part in one of a number of studies, including the UK NEAT (National Epriubicin Adjuvant Trial)*. They tested the tumours to identify which markers could predict whether the chemotherapy treatment would be successful.

The results of the trial provide evidence that the marker – a duplication of Chromosome 17 – could be used to predict which women will benefit from chemotherapy and could go on to be introduced as a routine test in treatment**.

Professor Bartlett said: “This study gives us a key in the door to personalised chemotherapy treatment. Until now we haven’t been able to predict which women are likely to benefit from this type of chemotherapy.

“We are now close to being able to use this new marker in the clinic to select appropriate therapies in early breast cancer.”

Kate Law, director of clinical trials at Cancer Research UK, said: “These results are really encouraging and have the potential to change the way we treat women with breast cancer.

“Cancer Research UK are leaders in developing our knowledge about existing drugs. Before now we haven’t been able to predict who would benefit from epirubicin and this research means that women will only be given the treatment if it’s right for them.”


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* The NEAT study was a large multi-centre clinical trial in the UK which included 2021 women with early breast cancer, who required chemotherapy as well as surgery. The study showed that including an additional chemotherapy drug ‘epirubicin’ to standard chemotherapy, improved survival rates. This drug is now included in standard chemotherapy for breast cancer in the UK and throughout the world. The clinical study was funded by Cancer Research UK, and was completed 8 years ago. Epirubicin and Cyclophosphamide, Methotrexate, and Fuorouracil as Adjuvant Therapy for Early Breast Cancer. The New England Journal of Medicine, November 2006.

** The data presented has been collected from 3 trials. A fourth trial to further validate the results is needed before the marker will be used as a predictor in clinical practice.

***For more information on breast cancer treatments, visit

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