Some breast cancers could be treated with prostate cancer drugs

There are some types of breast cancer that might respond better to medication meant for prostate cancer, researchers in the UK have discovered. The BBC reports on findings that Cancer Research UK says is a "great surprise."

Breast cancer in women can be driven by estrogen, which switches on genes that make cells divide uncontrollably and develop into tumors. In men, male sex hormones and androgens such as testosterone trigger prostate cancer. The BBC reports that hormone treatments like tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors are ineffective against up to 30 percent of breast cancers, interfering with estrogen and stopping the tumor's progress. But harder to treat are tumors that are not driven by estrogen.

Turns out, according to the British researchers, these estrogen-negative breast tumors are influenced instead by male hormones, raising some hope that drugs already developed for prostate cancer could also help women fight some types of breast cancers. Androgens like testosterone are also present in women.

"This important discovery suggests that patients with a type of estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer may potentially benefit from therapies given to prostate cancer patients, which could transform treatment for this patient group in the future," lead researcher Ian Mills tells the BBC. "But at the moment this laboratory research is still at an early stage."

- read the full story in the BBC
- and the abstract in The EMBO Journal