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Common Female Hormone May Boost Breast Cancer Survival Rates

Update Date: Jul 08, 2015 05:23 PM EDT
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The female hormone progesterone could extend the lifespan of breast cancer patients, according to new research.

The latest findings were discovered using a newly developed technique that saves breast cancer cells for research. Scientists said that pairing this new method with other advanced medical technologies might lead to new treatments for breast cancer.

"One in eight Australian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and seven women die from the disease each day in Australia," Professor Wayne Tilley of the University of Adelaide's Dame Roma Mitchell Cancer Research Laboratories said in a news release.

"Traditionally, breast cancer tumors are destroyed once they have been removed from a patient. The new technique we have developed sees tumor cells from participating patients 'rescued' for research purposes," he said.

"This technique, which is used to test current and new forms of therapy on tumor cells, has potential to one day provide an individualized treatment option for the patient based on how the tumor responds to therapy," Tilley explained. "The method is also a vital research tool. It has helped shed light on the mystery of progesterone action that has confounded researchers and clinicians for a long time."

Researchers said the latest findings might explain why patients with a particular type of hormone-driven breast cancer are significantly more likely to recover.

"We used state-of-the-art DNA reading technology to create maps showing where the oestrogen receptor attaches to DNA to switch on genes," Dr. Jason Carroll, from the University of Cambridge's Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, said in a statement. "We then compared these maps in breast cancer cells grown with and without progesterone. This revealed how the 'switched on' progesterone receptor redirects the oestrogen receptor to different DNA regions - switching on a different set of genes that slow down cell growth.

"This important research helps explain why some breast cancer patients have a better prognosis. Crucially, it has provided a strong case for a clinical trial to investigate the potential benefit of adding progesterone to drugs that target the oestrogen receptor, which could improve treatment for the majority of hormone-driven breast cancers," Carroll concluded.

The findings were published in the journal Nature.

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