If you or someone you love has tested positive for one of the inherited genetic mutations known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, then you already know the bad news: Women with these genes are at heightened risk of developing breast cancer. But now there is some good news, too: A new approach to treating breast cancer actually fights cancer by targeting the weakness in a tumor’s cells caused by the BRCA mutations. And the early results from this approach, using a class of drugs known as PARP inhibitors, are promising. In a recent international study published in the medical journal The Lancet, one of these new experimental drugs slowed tumor growth in 85% of the study’s participants, all of whom were carriers of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation who had advanced breast cancer. Although the study was small-- just 54 patients-- it is the first time that researchers have successfully taken the genetic reason a person has developed cancer and made it a target. And this approach may also be a strategy that may cause fewer side effects for patients, according to Susan Domchek, MD, of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, who co-authored the study. But Domchek cautions that more clinical testing is needed before the drug in this study (olaparib) and other PARP inhibitors in development will be ready for use in regular practice.
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