Genes hold key to advance warning of side effects

In collaboration with the Press Association

Scientists have identified two genes which are associated with an adverse reaction to the treatment of breast cancer, the National Cancer Research Institute Conference has heard. A team from the University of Leicester says the findings could hold the key to advance warning that certain types of treatment will not work with some patients who carry the genes. Dr Paul Symonds said those people who can have an adverse reaction to radiotherapy, for example, could be given alternative treatments. "A small number of people can develop severe side effects," he explained. "During treatment patients can get redness of the skin which may peel off. Later the breast may shrink (atrophy) and the tissues under the skin may become hard and thickened (fibrosis). Red widened blood vessels can appear in the skin (telangiectasia)." Dr Symonds said the two genes in question were associated with fibrosis and telangiectasia, with around eight per cent of women carrying the former ? heralding a risk 15 times greater than normal. While not an exact determining factor, the test appears to be 50 per cent to 60 per cent accurate in predicting the development of fibrosis. Further work is now being undertaken to try to increase this to almost 100 per cent, while additional research is also needed to find the gene responsible for redness and peeling of the skin during treatment. "In the future it may be possible to identify people who are going to react badly to radiotherapy," Dr Symonds commented. Echoing the positive comments, Dr Kat Arney, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "Many women are given radiotherapy for breast cancer, and a small but significant proportion of them will have long-term side effects. "The discovery of some of the genes involved in this process may lead to a test that doctors can use to predict if women are suitable for radiotherapy or not. "This can only be good news, as it might enable women to avoid these side effects in the future, by having alternative treatments." The National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) was established in 2001 and brings together experts to discuss the latest advances in treatment and research.

Listen to a podcast interview with Dr Symonds on the NCRI Conference website

Find out more about radiotherapy