Breast Cancer

Every year around 50,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in the UK. Five out of six 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…
Large-scale population studies to determine which genes are responsible for causing breast cancer,
Genetic barcoding to identify different cancer types and to help develop specific treatments,
Clinical trials to test new treatments on patients.

Advances in breast cancer research in Cambridge

Programme Contacts

University of Cambridge
Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, Department of Oncology
University of Cambridge
Department of Oncology
Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Department of Oncology
Breast Cancer Programme Manager
Overview from Professor Carlos Caldas, Director 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

Visiting Professor
The CRUK Cambridge Centre Breast Cancer Programme is delighted to welcome Dr Laura Esserman, UCSF as Visiting Professor on 24-25 September 2018. Dr Laura Esserman is Professor of Surgery and Radiology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and director of the UCSF Breast Care Clinic. Her work in breast cancer spans the spectrum from basic science to public policy issues, and the impact of both on the delivery of clinical care. Dr Esserman is recognized as a thought leader in cancer screening and over diagnosis, as well as innovative clinical trial design.

Dr Esserman will be giving a lecture entitled Transformation in trials and care to accelerate learning in medicine at the CRUK Cambridge Institute lecture theatre on Monday 24 September from 12.00-13.00.

Breast Cancer Programme Research Day 2018
The Breast Cancer Programme Research Day will take place on Monday 1 October at the Maxwell Centre, JJ Thompson Avenue, Cambridge, CB3 0HE, 09.00-17.00 followed by a drinks reception.

Professor Richard Gilbertson will be the keynote speaker, and there will be several talks by faculty members, an outside speaker, and patient representatives, as well as a poster session for postdocs and PhD students. The confirmed programme is available here.

All members of the Breast Cancer Programme are welcome to attend but places are limited so please sign up here. Members of other Centre Programmes may apply to attend but preference will be given to members of the Breast Cancer Programme.