"Research needed" to develop breast cancer prevention drug

In collaboration with the Press Association

A 'one-stop' drug treatment could one day be developed to prevent breast cancer, one of Britain's leading researchers has said.

Professor Valerie Beral, who is director of the cancer epidemiology unit at Oxford University and is funded by Cancer Research UK, said that childbirth and breastfeeding have been shown beyond doubt to protect against breast cancer.

She has called for more research into ways to mimic the hormones involved and thereby prevent breast cancer, rather than ploughing the vast majority of research money into treating the disease once it has already developed.

"We don't know how this happens and nobody is doing research on it," she claimed. "We should be looking at hormone production during late pregnancy and lactation."

The professor believes that an interesting direction for future research could involve a hormone called prolactin.

She told the Guardian: "The one hormone that has to do with breast changes doesn't appear until late pregnancy. It goes up exponentially. It produces the changes in the breast that make for lactation. Why isn't anyone looking at it?"

Professor Beral revealed that fewer than a dozen scientists are currently following this avenue of research.

Speaking at the National Cancer Research Institute's annual conference, she said: "It is not well-funded. It is not mainstream research. Why isn't it a priority of the cancer community?"

The professor backed up her stance by noting that research into preventing disease has already proved its worth in the case of cervical cancer, where research has led to a vaccine which could prevent many cases of the disease.

Find out more about Professor Beral's work on our website

Find out more about breast cancer risks and causes on CancerHelp UK