Our Research

Trans fatty acids and Breast Cancer

Research studies had showed that the risk of breast cancer was doubled in women having higher serum levels of trans fatty acids. The trans fatty acids studied are those from industrial sources (processed foods, processed bread, processed pastries, cakes, potato chips, pizza dough, etc.).

Unlike Asian countries, where the protective effect of omega-3 fatty acids from fish on breast cancer risk was clearly demonstrated, a protective effect against breast cancer was not found in this study.

These results are published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
The unhealthy effects of trans fatty acids on cardiovascular risk have been well established since the early 1990s, yet their impact on breast cancer risk remained to be elucidated.

The analysis of trans and cis fatty acids showed that breast cancer risk increases with the increase in trans fatty acid level, reflecting processed food consumption. These results show that women with elevated serum levels of trans fatty acid have almost twice the risk of developing breast cancer, compared to women with the lowest levels.

Protective effect of omega-3 fatty acids on breast cancer risk was clearly demonstrated in Asian countries, where fish consumption is much higher than in Europe or in North America, this protective effect could not be measured in this highly-powered French study, probably due to considerably lower per-capita consumption of fish.

In industrialized countries, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. Among the risk factors that may lend themselves to primary prevention, diet shows strong potential, as a single but consistent change in dietary habits could lower the risk of breast cancer, subject to clear identification of responsible nutrients. Among those, dietary lipids could play a major role.

Our Research

Role of Genetics in Cancer research

Cancer is a disease of the genes, caused when DNA damage becomes fixed in the cells of our body. Anyone can develop cancer as they age and genetic damage builds up in cells, but the genes a person inherits, their lifestyle and their environment all contribute to their risk.

Our researchers are aiming to unravel the roles played by genes, behavior and environmental exposures in the development of cancer, as a means of finding ways to identify people most at risk of cancer and helping them manage their risk. Understanding the causes of cancer can also provide important clues about how to treat it.

Some people inherit a particularly high risk of developing certain cancers. Around 5–10% of women with breast cancer, for instance, have inherited specific genetic mutations raising their risk of developing the disease. At The Institute of Cancer Research, we are internationally renowned for our work on the genetics of cancer risk. Our scientists work on identifying both rare gene mutations that substantially increase the risk of cancer, and much more common genetic variants that individually only have a small effect on risk. They have identified a large number of genetic risk factors for a wide variety of cancers, including breast, ovarian, prostate, lung, testicular, brain, hematological and childhood cancers.

Our researchers are also conducting several long-term studies following large numbers of people over time, in order to explore how genetic, behavioral and environmental factors may together affect cancer risk. The ICR hosts the Breakthrough Generations Study – funded by Breakthrough Breast Cancer – which is one of the world’s largest studies of the causes of breast cancer, involving more than 100,000 women across the UK. The study is starting to unpick how lifestyle, and factors such as the age at which women hit puberty or the menopause, play a role in the development of breast cancer.

An understanding of the genetic, behavioral and environmental causes of cancer can help in finding new ways of detecting, managing or preventing cancers, and provide important clues about how cancer develops.

Molecular Pathology – a tool for Cancer diagnosis

Our researchers are focused on understanding the molecular alterations important in the development and progression of cancer, and in determining how the disease responds to treatment. The goal is to translate advances in the molecular characterization of tumors into approaches to successfully implement personalized cancer treatment.

Our team is investigating a number of tumor types, including breast prostate, pediatric, skin and blood cancers. Researchers are comprehensively characterizing the molecular features of cancer, and aim to establish new molecular diagnostics and novel molecular therapeutic targets in cancer.

Our researchers have successfully developed specialized medicine strategies for blood cancers – myeloma, leukemia and lymphomas. They are now looking to do the same for breast and pediatric cancers, along with rarer cancers, such as soft-tissue sarcomas for which few treatments are available.

Our team is also examining changes in the cancer epigenome to provide understanding of tumor development and response to treatment; and using deep sequencing technologies to identify specific molecular alterations that lead to drug resistance not only in individual tumors, but in specific metastatic sites.