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Landmark breast cancer trial investigates new technique to predict effectiveness of treatment

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The largest clinical trial of its kind – which aims to find out if testing breast cancer cells after two weeks of hormone therapy can help predict how well a woman will respond to treatment – is being outlined at the NCRI Cancer Conference in Birmingham today (Tuesday).

Professor Mitch Dowsett based at The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden Hospital – one of the three lead researchers on the trial – explains how the biology of breast cancers can vary. This means they develop and respond differently to treatment. The trial will provide a greater understanding of the biology of these breast cancers, how they respond to treatment and how the outcome for patients can be improved.

The trial named POETIC* – funded by Cancer Research UK and Breakthrough Breast Cancer – will study postmenopausal women with early stage, hormone sensitive breast cancer. For the first time patients will be given hormone therapy two weeks before surgery as well as two weeks afterwards. The researchers will compare the biopsy taken at diagnosis with the tumour at the time of surgery, two weeks later, to study molecular effects of treatment in the hopes of planning best therapy for each individual patient.

Surgery is usually the first treatment for early breast cancer. After surgery, women with hormone receptor positive breast cancer will have hormone therapy as part of their treatment – usually for at least five years to help reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back.

In this trial doctors want to find out if giving a type of drug called an aromatase inhibitor, for two weeks before as well as after surgery, helps reduce the risk still further of breast cancer returning.

Around 4000 women from across the UK will be recruited to take part in the trial. Two-thirds of the newly diagnosed patients will be given the new treatment and the others will be treated normally.

Professor Dowsett said: “Breast cancer is increasingly seen as a complex family of cancers. The novel design of the POETIC trial means that with very little change to patients’ treatment we will be able to characterise the biology of their tumours far better.

“We hope this will lead to a much improved tailoring of treatment to the individual patient. We are extremely grateful for the support of our colleagues and their patients at over 35 centres throughout the UK who are collaborating with us on POETIC.”

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK with more than 45,500 women diagnosed with the disease every year.

Kate Law, Cancer Research UK’s director of clinical trials, said: “Without clinical trials like POETIC, we wouldn’t know which drugs are best to treat cancer. This trial has the double aim of developing better care as well as providing a greater understanding of the way individual women and their specific type of breast cancer develops and responds to drugs. It’s a promising trial and we look forward to following its progress and seeing the results.”


For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 0207 061 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.