October 31, 2021News

5 new advances in breast cancer research

Discover the 5 highlights of our “Breast Health Forum“, presented by our Main Partner National Bank, which was held virtually on October 30th. For this 5th edition, more than a dozen specialists presented conferences on major topics related to the entire breast cancer journey: from pre-diagnosis to the return to normal life.

So what should I know about breast cancer?

1 – AXL as a multifunctional therapeutic target in breast cancer

Dr. Jean-François Côté, IRCM

Approximately 20-30% of female breast cancer survivors will become metastatic and 5% of breast cancers in Canada are initially diagnosed at Stage 4. Dr. Jean-François Côté’s team has discovered that a protein called AXL is believed to play an important role in the development of metastasis. Its research aims to better understand the mechanism behind this protein in order to develop therapies that target it, thus preventing the spread of cancer cells into metastases. This is a major advance in breast cancer research to prevent recurrence of the disease.

2 – Precision medicine and metastatic breast cancer

Dr. Saima Hassan (CHUM)

Breast cancer is multifactorial and heterogeneous, meaning it can be characterized by a combination of several factors. Among those being analyzed are the molecular subtypes involved in the development of cancer. The best known are the estrogen (ER+) and progesterone (PR+) receptors, followed by human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2+). The more the mechanism of activation of these receptors is understood, the more treatments can be developed to block their action and prevent the development of cancer. The particularity of metastasis is that the cancer cells act differently in a so-called localized cancer than in a metastatic breast cancer, i.e. Stage 4. The latter implies that the cancer cells have reached other organs of the body, such as the liver, bones, lungs, or brain. The cancer becomes incurable and can only be controlled and prevented from progressing. Precision medicine can help develop more targeted treatments to limit side effects and improve the quality of life of people with metastatic breast cancer.

3 – Liquid biopsies

Dr. Mark Basik

Currently, a biopsy is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of breast cancer. This technique consists of taking a sample of the tumour, which is then analyzed in a laboratory to detect if there are cancerous cells. A liquid biopsy would instead involve taking, then analyzing, a blood sample. It was recently discovered that tumour information could possibly be detected in the blood, including tumour DNA, messenger RNA and certain proteins. Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, it may therefore be possible to screen for breast cancer in the blood, using a less invasive but equally accurate technology.

4 – Oncogenomics and the “Oncodrive” project

Dr. Patricia Tonin

Among risk factors, genetics is involved in about 5-10% of breast cancer cases. Individuals (male or female) who carry a genetic mutation have a 40-60% chance of developing the disease, and also have a 50% chance of passing the gene on to each of their children. Knowledge of these genes is important because it can influence patient management and treatment. “Oncodrive”’s goal is to improve the management of patients affected by cancer by better integrating genetics into the process. These are important developments that could lead to the discovery of new genes, better management of patients and better treatment of the disease.

5 – Vitamin D analogues and triple-negative breast cancer

Dr. John White

Triple-negative breast cancer is so called because it does not respond to any of the three hormone receptors (estrogen, progesterone and HER2), hence the name “triple-negative breast cancer” or TNBC. It is a rather aggressive type of cancer that accounts for about 10-15% of cases. The risk of recurrence is also higher. There is no targeted treatment for TNBC, so chemotherapy is routinely given.

Dr. White and his team are interested in molecules that could specifically target triple-negative breast cancer: vitamin D receptors (VDRs) and HDAC inhibitors. These are two anti-cancer agents that act on resistant cells and, when combined, may be able to kill cancer cells. A better understanding of the mechanism of these molecules could lead to the development of a targeted treatment for TNBC, which would significantly increase the quality of life of patients.


We would like to thank our partners for their participation and involvement in the “Breast Health Forum“ event.

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