Could osteoporosis drugs be used to prevent cancer in BRCA1 gene carriers?

24 June 2016

Our Health Projects Manager Ross responds to reports of a new 'holy grail' in cancer prevention, which suggests drugs more commonly used to treat osteoporosis could be used to prevent ovarian and breast cancer in women who carry a BRCA1 gene mutation.

Where did this story come from?

The article was published in the journal Nature Medicine on 20th June 2016.

What has been found?

Researchers have discovered that the pre-cancerous cells found in BRCA1 gene mutation carriers are fueled by the same protein that feeds the bone-destroying cells found in osteoporosis patients.

During trials in laboratories, on both cells and mice, it was revealed that Denosumab, one of the drugs more commonly used to treat osteoporosis, could also prevent tumour formation in those pre-cancerous cells. This has led to suggestions that breast and ovarian cancer development in women with BRCA1 gene mutations could be delayed or even prevented by treatment with this drug.

This is fantastic news, isn't it?

Despite this being a hugely promising development in the area of treating genetically inherited cancers, there is still some way to go before this becomes a viable option. Crucially this study was carried out in mice and on cells in the lab, so we don't know how effective this approach could be at reducing cancer risk in women, or how it compares with options for prevention that are already available.

What does this actually mean for women with BRCA1 gene mutations?

As exciting as these findings are, it is still very early to be talking about them as an option for cancer prevention in women with BRCA1 gene mutations. Currently women with these inherited genetic mutations are encouraged to explore the screening, surveillance and surgical options available to them when thinking about how to reduce their risks of both ovarian and breast cancer. It is also always important to consider lifestyle factors that could impact on cancer risk.

The BRCA hub is a one-stop-shop for all things BRCA, including information about what you can do if you are concerned about your family history of breast and ovarian cancer, your eligibility to have genetic testing, and consequences and impact of having a genetic mutation for both you and your family.

Visit our BRCA hub for information, support and advice on BRCA gene mutations and inherited risk