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News Release - Queen's University researcher uncovers way to identify women at high risk of developing relapse of breast cancer

Thursday, November 7, 2019

(November 2019) A Queen’s University cancer researcher has discovered a way to identify women who are at risk of breast cancer recurrence and potentially offer alternative therapies.

Christopher Mueller of the Queen’s Cancer Research Institute, working with the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG), has found a “marker” that will help identify women with estrogen receptor expressing cancer who are at increased risk of re-developing cancer.

Cancers need estrogen to grow. There are treatments available that specifically target the estrogen receptor such as tamoxifen and there are drugs that prevent affected women from making estrogen. This has been very effective in reducing the number of women who suffer a relapse of their cancer. However, in more than 20 per cent of these patients, the cancer does not respond to these treatments and they suffer a recurrence of their disease. This group of women may represent the majority of deaths from breast cancer.

With the discovery of a “marker” to identify women who are at risk of a recurrence, physicians can offer alternative therapies to reduce the risk of a relapse

To undertake this research, Mueller took advantage of the CCTG tissue bank which is a collection of tumours and blood from the various oncology clinical trials carried out across Canada and around the world. This represents a collection of patient material where meticulous records of a patient’s cancer journey has been recorded and where the effects of a wide variety of drugs are known. This study demonstrates the power of such material to answer important questions beyond the scope of the original trial.


“This new research allows us to identify women with breast cancer who are at high risk of developing a relapse right from their initial diagnosis. This means they can be offered alternative therapies, many of which are already available, which may be able to reduce their risk of having a relapse.”

- Christopher Mueller, Queen’s Cancer Research Institute


The research appeared in Clinical Epigenetics.


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