October is internationally recognised as Breast Cancer Awareness Month which focuses on increasing awareness and fundraising for future research. The campaign aims to demonstrate support for people impacted by breast cancer and encourage regular checking for common signs and symptoms, including lumps in the breast or under the armpits, inverted or swollen nipples, a rash or a change in the shape of the breasts. In the UK, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, therefore, an earlier diagnosis could be lifesaving1.

In 2018, over 2 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer around the world, with the World Health Organisation estimating that 627,000 women sadly succumb to the disease2,3. However, women are not solely affected by breast cancer as approximately 2550 men were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 20184. Despite the treatment options being the same for men and women, including surgery and targeted drug therapies such as trastuzumab (Herceptin), men are usually diagnosed at a more advanced stage due to a lack of awareness. In the UK, screening programmes are in place for women between the ages of 50-71 which are fundamental in detecting breast cancers at earlier stages, resulting in potentially easier treatment pathways. It has been suggested that in the UK, screening for breast cancer reduces the number of deaths by 1300 a year5.

The global pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has recently made lots of headway with a new antibody for treating HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer, which targets the HER2 protein found on the surface of some cancerous cells. The FDA has granted it priority status after the Phase I clinical trials- registered under number NCT02564900- and Phase II clinical trials produced promising results for the upcoming treatment landscape of breast cancer. The expedited review means that the FDA will have around 6 months to assess the safety and effectiveness of the drug before approving it, rather than the typical 10 months. The new antibody, named Trastuzumab deruxtecan, could be revolutionary for those with HER-2 positive breast cancer who have restricted treatment options6.

There are a multitude of ways in which people are spreading awareness about breast cancer this month, including wearing pink clothing, educating others, fundraising for charities and taking part in sports challenges, in the hope that lives of men and women around the world will be saved.

 [1] NHS (2018). ‘Overview: Breast cancer screening’. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/breast-cancer-screening/ [Accessed 18 October 2019]

[2] World Health Organisation: Global Health Observatory (2018). ‘Cancer Today’. Available at: http://gco.iarc.fr/today/home [Accessed 18 October 2019]

[3] World Health Organisation (2019) ‘Breast Cancer: Early diagnosis and screening’. Available at: https://www.who.int/cancer/prevention/diagnosis-screening/breast-cancer/en/ [Accessed 18 October 2019]

[4] Alkabban, FM et al. (2019) ‘Cancer, Breast’. StatPearls Publishing. Treasure Island (FL)

[5] Cancer Research UK (2017). ‘Breast Cancer: Breast Screening’. Available at: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/breast-cancer/screening/breast-screening [Accessed 18 October 2019].

 [6] Tamura, K et al. (2019) ‘Trastuzumab deruxtecan (DS-8201a) in patients with advanced HER2-positive breast cancer previously treated with trastuzumab emtansine: a dose-expansion, phase 1 study’. Lancet Oncol. 20(6): 816-826.

Sasha-Louise Ahlawat 

Healthcare Analyst