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National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre
Our Research: Cancer Prevention and Early Detection

Developing new imaging and molecular biomarkers

How can we optimise the effectiveness of chemopreventive agents to improve outcomes for patients?

Chemoprevention is the use of medication to lower the risk of cancer in the healthy population. There are only three approved cancer chemopreventive agents in the UK (tamoxifen, raloxifene and anastrozole), however they only reduce the risk of breast cancer and there are limitations in their effectiveness.

Lifestyle interventions have the potential to reduce the risk of several types of cancer, however, there is currently a lack of information to guide which individuals are most likely to benefit from a particular preventive approach.

Through our research we are:

  • Using existing risk prediction models (short term) and enhanced models from programme 1 and programme 2 (longer term) to define individuals at increased risk of breast and endometrial cancers.
  • Identifying who responds best to existing chemopreventive agents and lifestyle approaches using serial imaging and biopsy protocols.
  • Discovering new preventive drugs and strategies through detailed analysis of the mechanisms of resistance to existing approaches.

Supporting the rapid translation of this research into clinical practice through our Rapid Translational Incubator.

Progress to date

  • MRI and Breast Impedance are encouraging predictors of early response to tamoxifen in the normal breast.
  • Results from our BC-APPS1 study show that anti-progestins are a promising new approach in breast cancer prevention.

Future work

  • Biopsy study for women starting chemoprevention with tamoxifen or anastrozole define the molecular changes associated with response and resistance to treatment.
  • A trial repurposing the osteoporosis drug denosumab in women at increased risk of BC due to BRCA1 mutation.
  • A trial examining the effects of weight loss on normal breast stem cells is currently being planned.