A potential break-through in breast cancer treatment is being pioneered by doctors at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre. Medical experts hope the new hormone-based treatment could extend the lives of women affected by the disease.
Based at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, Prof Carlo Palmieri, who is leading the research into the drug – called irosustat – said if it is proven to be effective it could have a “big impact” on future treatment for a disease which affects tens of thousands of women in the UK and across the world.
The research – known as the IRIS study, after the Institutional Research Information Service, the research body conducting the trial – is being led from the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in south Wirral and the Linda McCartney Centre at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital. Oncologists at a handful of other cancer centres across the country are also testing the new drug.
Prof Palmieri said: “Most breast cancers need oestrogen to grow and there are two ways in which the body can make it.
“Currently, we’re only able to use a hormone drug to block one of these places, but with the introduction of irosustat we’re hoping to prove that we can also block the other one.”
Marie Smith, 67, from Liverpool was the first patient to be signed up to the trial. She joined the research in September and has been taking irosustat alongside her standard hormone treatment, anastrozole, for the past four weeks.
She said: “I found out I had secondary breast cancer in January, nine years after I’d had a mastectomy and was given the all-clear. It was a shock, but I’ve always had the utmost trust in my doctors and knew they’d do what they could.
“Unfortunately, my cancer is only treatable, not curable, so the main aim is to try and make sure it doesn’t grow. A few weeks ago I had a routine check-up and was informed that the cancer had become slightly more aggressive, so I was referred to Prof Carlo Palmieri, who told me about the IRIS trial.
“I knew instantly that I wanted to take part as I have seven young grandchildren and will do anything to stay around for them for as long as possible.
“Prof Palmieri put me at ease with his chirpy attitude and impressive expertise.
“I’ve only been taking the additional hormone treatment for three weeks but I’m optimistic about the future and if I hear that my cancer has shrunk, even a tiny bit, as a result, I’ll be over the moon.”
Prof Palmieri added: “This is currently being used for an incurable form of breast cancer, but hopefully, if it’s effective, we will be able to bring it forward and use it at an earlier stage.”
Chris Holcombe, consultant breast cancer surgeon at the Linda McCartney Centre and cancer lead for the Merseyside and Cheshire Cancer Network is the principle investigator for the IRIS study locally.
He said: “This study is bringing together the expertise across the region, particularly focusing on our research capabilities to ensure that local people benefit from the latest cancer treatments. I’m delighted to be part of this study that could potentially prolong the lives of many women with this form of breast cancer.”
Experts also hope this study will show how the new Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in Liverpool, due to open in 2015, can help strengthen the research.