A study looking at why people respond differently to the same chemotherapy (PG SNPS)

Cancer type:

Breast cancer





This study looked at blood samples from people with breast cancer to see why they had different side effects and results from the same chemotherapy. 

It included women who had taken part in one of the following breast cancer trials:

  • NEAT
  • McNEAT
  • tAnGO or Neo-tAnGo

Or, had taxane chemotherapy Open a glossary item or epirubicin with CMF chemotherapy.

More about this trial

Researchers believe that side effects and differences in results could be linked to how the body processes chemotherapy.

In this study, they used blood samples to look at the characteristics of certain genes that tell the body how to process drugs. They looked at the side effects and treatment outcome of each person in the study. They built a record (profile) of these results. 

They hoped that, in the future, doctors might be able to look at this record and predict which chemotherapy will work best for a particular person.

This aims of this study were to:

  • look at the chemotherapy side effects from these trials to see how common they were
  • learn more about the genes that affected side effects and response to chemotherapy
  • see how accurate gene profiles are at predicting side effects and treatment outcome

Summary of results

These results are in 3 parts.

  • 1 part looked at common side effects and treatment outcome (prognosis) 
  • Another looked at finding genes that affected side effects
  • The 3rd tried to find new genetic variations linked to surviving  breast cancer 

Part 1 - common chemotherapy side effects and treatment outcome (prognosis) 
6, 248 women took part in this study. To begin with, the study team collected information about 13 common side effects the women had while having chemotherapy. Some of these included:

  • a drop in the number of white blood cells (neutropenia Open a glossary item)
  • tiredness (fatigue)
  • tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • feeling or being sick
  • constipation or diarrhoea
  • a drop in the number of red blood cells (anaemia) Open a glossary item
  • infection
  • muscle and joint pain
  • high temperature (fever)

The doctors rated the side effects from mild to severe (from grade 0 to grade 4).

They also did some analysis to work out the likely outcome of someone with breast cancer (their prognosis). This was based on a number of factors including the stage and grade of the cancer and hormone receptors on the cancer cell. 

They then looked to see if there was a link between having any of the side effects and:

  • how long the women lived without the cancer coming back - this is called relapse free survival
  • the number of women who have survived their breast cancer since their diagnosis or treatment – this is called breast cancer specific survival- it does not include any women who died from any other cause

They found a link with both of these and having a severe (grade 3 or worse) drop in the number of white blood cells (neutropenia). 

So the research team say having severe neutropenia might help predict who is going to survive breast cancer or remain relapse free for longer. They didn’t find a link with any of the other side effects.

Other findings were:

  • people who had a low or a healthy body mass index (BMI Open a glossary item) were more likely to have severe neutropenia than people who were overweight or obese
  • having moderate to severe fatigue could possibly predict poorer treatment outcomes

The trial team concluded that there is a significant link with having severe neutropenia caused by chemotherapy and improved survival. 

Part 2 - genes that affected side effects
The study team collected 1, 335 blood or saliva samples from women who took part and had a drug called paclitaxel. The DNA Open a glossary item was extracted and stored. 

The study team were looking for small variations (SNPS’s) within genes that might lead to an increased risk of having a side effect that causes tingling or numbness in hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy). 

They looked at 73 possible changes (SNPS’s) in 50 genes to see how they affect peripheral neuropathy risk. 

The study team found there were 2 small changes within these 50 genes that could possibly increase the risk of having numbness or tingling in the hands or feet. 

Part 3 - finding new genetic variations linked to surviving breast cancer
The study team looked at the genetic information of women who took part in this study and some other European studies. They had information for 37, 974 people whose ancestors were from Europe. 

The study team were looking for new genetic variations linked with breast cancer survival.  An overview of these studies (a meta analysis) found 1 possible new genetic area linked with breast cancer survival. It was found in people whose breast cancer cells didn’t have receptors for the hormone oestrogen (oestrogen receptor negative Open a glossary item or ER negative breast cancer). 

This was the largest study looking at genes linked with breast cancer survival. The study team say that finding genetic variations to predict treatment outcome is possible. But there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Dr Jean Abraham

Supported by

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Cancer Research UK
Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC)
NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer
University of Cambridge

If you have questions about the trial please contact our cancer information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:


Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Last reviewed:

Rate this page:

Currently rated: 3 out of 5 based on 11 votes
Thank you!
We've recently made some changes to the site, tell us what you think