May 3, 2006

The first international clinical trial to treat women with recurring hereditary breast cancer has been launched in Europe, America, Australia and Israel. It will compare carboplatin -- a platinum-based drug normally used to treat ovarian cancer -- with standard chemotherapy. If the tests are successful, scientists believe the drug could be made available to patients within five years. Researchers from University College London, Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, and the cancer division of the Medical Research Council, are conducting the study.

Approximately 5 percent of breast cancers occur in women with a strong family history of the illness, and more than three quarters of these families will have faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, noted the researchers. Women who inherit changes in these genes have as much as an 85% chance of developing breast cancer by the age of 70, and around a quarter of these women are likely to relapse.

There is currently no treatment specifically tailored for women with faulty BRCA genes who have recurring breast cancer. Previous laboratory work, however, suggests that carboplatin is 20 times more effective on cancer cells than standard chemotherapy.

"Because this is an established drug which is routinely used for the treatment of ovarian cancer, it has moved swiftly into trials and could be available to patients within five years if it proves to be effective," said James Mackay, one of the study's resaechers.

The study subjects will be randomly selected to receive either carboplatin or docetaxel, the current best-standard breast cancer chemotherapy drug. It is hoped 150 women from hospitals across the world will take part in the trial over a four-year-period, added Mackay.