A drug commonly used to treat osteoporosis could prevent breast and ovarian cancer, potentially saving thousands from having to undergo surgery and further treatment.
Hailed as a potential 'holy grail' for cancer prevention, the drug would help women born with mutations in their BRCA1 gene, which was made famous when Angelina Jolie underwent a double mastectomy and hysterectomy after learning she had the genetic fault.
It's estimated that around one in every 1,000 women have the mutation that increases their chance of getting breast cancer from 12.5 per cent to 58 per cent. Their risk of ovarian cancer increases 29 fold.
However, a team at the Institute of Medical Research in Australia and the University of Melbourne have found a link between these cancers and osteoporosis.
The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, found that the same protein was involved in the development of pre-cancerous cells and the cells that cause bones to become damaged with osteoporosis.
They also found a drug - called denosumab - is able to deactivate this protein. This could mean there is an effective way of preventing pre-cancerous cells from turning into ovarian or breast cancer that has already been approved for clinical use.
Findings from trials on breast tissue from BRCA1 cancer patients showed the medication was able to prevent tumours from forming.
"It is very exciting to think that we may be on the path to the 'holy grail' of cancer research, devising a way to prevent this type of breast cancer in women at high genetic risk,” said Professor Jane Visvader of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne.
The treatment could potentially help thousands of women, with one in eight being diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime.
If confirmed in upcoming clinical studies, the drug could present a non-surgical option for women with the genetic mutation.
Professor Geoff Lindeman of the University of Melbourne said the findings were exciting as they could represent a new way to delay or prevent breast cancer in women with the inherited BRCA1 gene mutation.
"A clinical trial has already begun to investigate this further. This is potentially a very important discovery for women who carry a faulty BRCA1 gene, who have few other options," Professor Lindeman added.
Emma Smith at Cancer Research UK said further tests would be needed to see whether this method could be effective for reducing breast cancer risk in women, and to see if it would be better than the prevention options that are already available.
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