Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Programme

Around 55,900 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in the UK yearly. Almost nine in ten women with breast cancer in England and Wales survive for at least five years; however, around 1,000 UK women still die of breast cancer every month. Our research is aiming to increase the survival rate through: Collaboration: connecting researchers with an interest in Breast Cancer and their expertise across Cambridge; Personalising breast cancer treatment: understanding individual breast cancers and how they respond to different treatments; Novel Clinical trial designs: Time and cost efficient ways to test new treatments and rapid translation between clinic and lab.

Advances in breast cancer research in Cambridge
Overview of the Breast Cancer Programme

We are a team of experts in laboratory, translational and clinical research who have created the culture of working together with an ambitious aim – personalised precision treatment of women with breast cancer.

Our research spans all the way from epithelial and molecular biology, to genetic and clinical epidemiology, imaging, and clinical trials. A unique aspect of our Programme is the focus on the human form of the disease with basic laboratory research directly applied to human samples and frequent translation of laboratory findings into clinical application. Examples include the molecular stratification of patients using genomics and molecular pathology, therapy monitoring using liquid biopsies and/or metabolic imaging with MRS, a clinical trial exploring the laboratory observation of direct interaction between oestrogen and progesterone receptors in breast tumours, and the use of patient explants for pre-clinical drug development or for epithelial biology studies.

The main aim of the Programme over the next 5 years is to use longitudinal studies, particularly within the context of therapeutic trials, to unravel the clonal and cellular heterogeneity of breast cancer and its dynamic evolution with treatment.

Barcoding breast cancer

A major research project analysing the genetic barcodes of 2,000 breast cancer samples has identified 10 different types of breast cancer. Each has a different survival rate and requires a different course of treatment. The results of this research are being used to develop new tests to diagnose different breast cancer types, which will then enable each patient to be given the most effective course of treatment. Cambridge is also helping to unravel the full genetic sequence for breast cancer, as part of an international initiative to identify the genetic blueprint of 50 cancers.

Tumour sample bank

The Cambridge Breast Cancer Research Unit has collected over 20,000 tumour samples from breast cancer patients. This large diverse collection of tissue samples will be essential in the development and testing of new ways to diagnose the different types of breast cancer.

Cambridge Breast Unit

Cambridge has established a ‘one-stop’ clinic, the Cambridge Breast Unit, for rapid diagnosis of breast cancer. The diagnostic accuracy of the triple assessment (clinical examination, imaging and biopsy) is 99.6%. Nine-year survival rates of breast cancer patients treated at Addenbrookes Hospital is 84%, compared with a regional average of 78%. Around half of patients diagnosed with breast cancer at the clinic enter a clinical trial run by the Cambridge Breast Cancer Research Unit. Find out more about the Cambridge Breast Unit.

Response to hormone therapy

Researchers in Cambridge have identified how the oestrogen receptor-cistrome in primary tumours modulates response to hormone therapy. They demonstrated differential oestrogen receptor (ER) binding events in primary breast cancer (a first ever) and revealed a role for the pioneer factor FoxA1 as a crucial ER regulatory protein in drug resistant contexts, providing the impetus to develop therapeutic FoxA1 inhibitors.

Improved monitoring of response to therapy

Repeat biopsies to study genomic evolution as a result of therapy are difficult, invasive and may be confounded by intra-tumour heterogeneity. We have demonstrated the clear advantages of using circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) over other tests as a biomarker for monitoring treatment response and disease progression in patients with metastatic disease. Specifically, we have developed a new approach, sequencing of cancer exomes in plasma, to study a series of patients who have developed resistance to chemotherapy, hormone therapy and Trastuzumab, with the aim of identifying potential causing mutations.

Breast Cancer Programme news for members

Breast Cancer Programme Newsletter

The first edition of the new Breast Cancer Programme Newsletter was circulated to members on the 11th October 2021. If you would like to receive the newsletter in future you can request membership here:  

Visiting Professor (on hold)
The CRUK Cambridge Centre Breast Cancer Programme hosts an annual visit for a Visiting Professor in September. 

Breast Cancer Programme Research Day
We aim to hold a Breast Cancer Programme event early in 2022. Further details will be posted when available.

Programme Contacts

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Department of Oncology
Programme Lead
University of Cambridge
Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute
Programme Lead
Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, University of Cambridge, Other
Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, Department of Oncology
Senior Clinical Trials Coordinator