When cancer spreads to the brain, it can lead to memory changes, seizures, numbness on one side of the body, and headaches. Breast cancer patients are more apt to see this type of spread than those with many other cancers. A team of researchers in Ireland has found a new treatment that may work for this type of metastases, though, and it comes from existing medications.

Researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) investigated the genetics of primary breast cancer tumors that spread to the brain to determine possible treatments. They found that based on changes these tumors undergo, a PARP inhibitor may help. Their results, published in the journal Nature Communications, provide some encouraging news in the area of a difficult-to-treat progression.


Lead investigator Professor Leonie Young explains, “There are inadequate treatment options for people with breast cancer that has spread to the brain and research focused on expanding treatment options is urgently needed. Our study represents an important development in getting one step closer to a potential treatment for patients with this devastating complication of breast cancer.”

To determine which treatments may help, the team genetically tracked how tumors evolved between the initial diagnosis of breast cancer and its spread to the brain. When they did this, they discovered that nearly half of the tumors displayed changes in how they repaired their DNA. The team says that meant the tumors could be targeted with PARP inhibitors. PARP inhibitors work against tumors because they prevent cancer cells from repairing their DNA.


The researchers are hopeful that this could be a big development for patients with brain metastases.

Study co-author Dr. Damir Varešlija, says, “By uncovering these new vulnerabilities in DNA pathways in brain metastasis, our research opens up the possibility of novel treatment strategies for patients who previously had limited targeted therapy options.”

This isn’t the first time PARP inhibitors have been linked with effective treatments for breast cancer. Prior studies have shown that they work well for metastatic breast cancer linked to BRCA mutations.


Going forward, the RCSI team hopes their work leads to clinical studies on PARP inhibitors for brain metastases.

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