By Jason Bardi | November 14, 2011
In the last three decades, thousands of women with breast cancer have taken the drug tamoxifen, only to discover that the therapy doesn’t work, either because their tumors do not respond to the treatment at all, or because they develop resistance to it over time. Now researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have discovered the molecular basis for tamoxifen resistance and found a potential way to defeat it.
Pamela Munster, MD
On Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011, at the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference: Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics, UCSF oncologist Pamela Munster, MD, and her colleagues will present the results of clinical studies and laboratory experiments that show how some tumors resist tamoxifen and how this resistance can be overcome by administering a second class of drugs.
“Understanding the mechanism of tamoxifen resistance and how to defeat it may help a large number of women with hormone-resistant breast cancer,” said Munster. “It may lead quickly to new, more effective treatment strategies and may help to identify biomarkers to help to gauge whether or not someone will respond to treatment in the first place.”
The results will be presented at a press conference at 7:30 a.m. (PST) in room 2004 of the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco.
Tamoxifen Resistance and Breast Cancer
The National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 200,000 Americans are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. It is the second leading cause of cancer death among American women, claiming more than 40,000 lives in 2009 alone.
About 65 percent of women with breast cancer have tumors that, when examined in biopsies, show signs of co-opting a naturally occurring molecule in the human body called the estrogen receptor. This receptor helps to stimulate the proliferation and growth of cells – something that is normally tightly controlled in the body.
Tumors can use the machinery of this receptor to stimulate the unregulated growth and proliferation of cancer cells. Doctors have known for decades that this is one of the main drivers of breast cancer, and elevated levels of estrogen receptor is something oncologists look for when they take tumor biopsies.