Preliminary studies from the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, US, have found that the testosterone receptor could be a target for attack in treating triple negative breast cancer (TNBC).
TNBC is an aggressive form of the cancer and has been found to affect ten to 20 per cent of patients. It has larger and faster growing tumours, with limited treatment options. This is primarily because there isn't a targeted hormone receptor for the cancer, unlike most other forms, where receptors such as estrogen and progesterone are singled out. That means that chemotherapy is currently the only form of treatment available to patients.
The research was led by Barbara Pockaj, a surgical oncologist at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, and Heather Cunliffe, associate professor and head of TGen's breast and ovarian cancer research unit. Cunliffe said: "The goal of the study was to define what may be fueling TNBC, thereby identifying new potential options for effective targeted treatment.
"The team discovered that the androgen receptor is expressed in a significant proportion of these tumours, and moreover, the androgen-receptive positive tumors shared a unique clinical behaviour."
The researchers found that 22 per cent of the patients with TNBC had the androgen receptor in their tumours. Most appeared in older women where there is a higher likelihood of the cancer spreading to the lymph nodes. The data revealed that there is a definitive group of patients who may be sensitive to treatment directed against the androgen receptor.
The insights will need to undergo further medical trials before the results are turned into procedure, but this is a welcomed step towards fighting the vicious cancer. The next step would be to involve more patients in order to discover the clinical implications of androgen receptor positive TNBC. The researchers will also look to determine how the androgen receptor functions in TNBC.