Breast Cancer in the West Midlands

PUBLISHED: 11:19 15 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:33 20 February 2013

This year 4,100 women in the West Midlands will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 12,343 women in the region are currently living with the disease.

Recent figures show that the number of women dying from breast cancer has fallen to fewer than 12,000 for the first time in 40 years. In 1971 the first year these UK statistics were collated 12,472 women died from the disease. This figure rose steadily year-on-year, reaching a peak in 1989 when 15,625 women died. Since then, breast cancer death rates have fallen by a third.

Research into diagnosing and treating breast cancer is the reason behind this fall. Our work focuses on the areas which will have the greatest impact on reducing the number of cases of the disease and increasing survival rates. This covers all aspects of breast cancer, from understanding its molecular causes and investigating new ways to prevent it, to improving early detection and developing better treatments. And as we continue to make progress on breast cancer, we are uncovering many new research avenues for scientists to pursue.

Understanding breast cancer

Research into the genes involved in breast cancer has paved the way for the development of the genetic tests available today. These tests allow doctors to identify women at increased risk of breast cancer and give them help and guidance on prevention and screening. Over the last two decades, our scientists have made ground-breaking discoveries about some of the genes involved in breast cancer.

For example, in the 1990s, Cancer Research UK-funded scientists led the world in uncovering the breast cancer susceptibility gene BRCA2, and showed that another gene, BRCA1, was responsible for the majority of families with multiple cases of breast and ovarian cancer. More recently our scientists have been using cutting-edge research techniques to discover more regions of DNA that harbour new breast cancer genes. The modern era of cancer genetics is beginning to offer valuable information about more common gene faults that are associated with small increases in cancer risk, which will ultimately improve the prevention, detection and treatment of many cancers.

Testing treatments

In the 1990s, our scientists showed that giving the drug tamoxifen to all breast cancer patients who needed it, whatever their age, could save an estimated extra 20,000 lives each year worldwide. This overturned the conventional belief that the drug had no benefit for younger women. Tamoxifen is now one of the standard treatments used for breast cancer. In 2005, Cancer Research UKfunded scientists showed that radiotherapy after lumpectomy surgery for breast cancer could help to save lives. And in 2006, we found that giving breast cancer patients fewer but larger doses of radiotherapy may be as safe and as effective at reducing the risk of the cancer returning.

Were continuing to look for better treatments for the disease. Around one in twenty cases of breast cancer are due to inherited faults in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. Were currently funding a clinical trial of a potential new drug for women with breast or ovarian cancer who have inherited a faulty copy of one of these genes.

Preventing breast cancer

Its an old saying but its so true it is far better to prevent cancer than to treat it. To this end, Cancer Research UK funded a study called IBIS I. This showed that the drug tamoxifen can help to cut the incidence of breast cancer in women at high risk of the disease. Were now funding a study called IBIS II, which is recruiting thousands of women worldwide. The trial is testing whether a breast cancer treatment drug called anastrozole can prevent the disease in postmenopausal women at higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Previous research on anastrozole as a treatment for early breast cancer showed that it reduced the risk of developing another cancer in the opposite breast by over 50 per cent but this will be the first time the drug is being investigated as a preventive measure. The study is open to women aged 40-70 years old, who have passed the menopause, have a strong family history of breast cancer or who have been told by their doctors they have other risk factors. This includes women whose mother or sister had breast cancer or ovarian cancer by the age of 50 or under.

Into the future

From helping people understand how their lifestyle can affect their risk of developing breast cancer to understanding how the hormone oestrogen can fuel the growth of the disease, and funding clinical trials across the UK to improve treatment options, Cancer Research UK scientists are driving breast cancer research forward. And this will benefit women locally, across the UK and around the world.

Find out more

  • Anyone affected by cancer can contact Cancer Research UKs cancer information nurses on 0808 800 4040 (freephone) or visit the charity's patient information website

  • To help raise money for Cancer Research UKs research into breast cancer visit or call 08701 60 20 40.

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