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Breast Cancer Research

Cancer Research

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the UK, but what is less known is that it can affect men too at a rate of around 1 in every 100,000 men affected. In Yorkshire 5350 people were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and the rate that men get breast cancer has doubled in Yorkshire in the last 10 years. The NHS has introduced a screening program for women between 50 and 70 and those with a high risk of developing breast cancer, who are offered regular mammograms (an x-ray of the breast tissue).

The first sign of breast cancer that people notice is usually a lump or thickness in the tissue of their breast. Other changes to the breast tissue can also be signs of cancer and should be checked by your doctor. These include a change in size or shape of your breasts, swelling or pain in your armpits not related to your period and a change in the appearance or shape of your nipple. Being ‘breast aware’ and knowing what your breasts look and feel like, along with checking them regularly, will help you more easily detect when something is wrong. Whilst the incidence rate of breast cancer has increased across Yorkshire, 10 year survival rates have increased by 44% since 1985 thanks to a combination of earlier diagnosis, making the disease easier to treat, and research into more effective drugs and radiotherapy.


Our Research

Yorkshire Cancer Research supports research into female breast cancer with several projects underway, but also pioneering work into the overlooked area of male breast cancer too.


Throughout the long history of Yorkshire Cancer Research we’ve been able to fund many exciting and ground breaking projects in breast cancer research. As far back as the 1970’s, we gave a three year award to Professor V Craig Jordan, now known as the “Father of Tamoxifen”. As a young scientist at the University of Leeds, Professor Jordan defined the scientific strategy for re-inventing Tamoxifen (which was then a failed contraceptive) to become the gold standard for the long-term treatment of breast cancer. He said:
“The Yorkshire Cancer Research Campaign gave me the freedom to discover what Tamoxifen can do, and help millions of families around the world.”
As well as providing the impetus for the development of Tamoxifen, this funding also helped establish Professor Jordan as a researcher, enabling him to have a long and distinguished career in cancer research.


More recent research carried out by Professor Thomas Helleday between 2003 and 2005 at the University of Sheffield has led to clinical trials for a new drug type called “PARP inhibitors”, a treatment for breast and ovarian cancer patients with BRCA gene mutations. This treatment is currently being developed in conjunction with biopharmaceutical company Astra-Zeneca, aiming for regulatory approval. Professor Helleday said:
“This is a novel concept for cancer treatment and is keeping many BRCA mutated patients alive today. The YCR supporting the basic science behind this project was instrumental for this major breakthrough.”



Cancer ResearchDetection and surgical management of invasive and in situ breast cancer

Chemotherapy prior to surgery, in an attempt to shrink tumours and kill distant metastatic cells, has become the standard treatment for advanced cancer and is known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy. However, response to this treatment is variable both in terms of tumour shrinkage and longer term survival. This programme seeks to use tumour related measurements obtained from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, such as blood flow and diffusion (water motion), to predict both a patient’s initial response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy and their longer term survival.


  • Principle investigator: Professor Trevor Sheldon
  • Centre for MR Investigations, Hull Royal Infirmary
  • Award amount: £7.2M (YCR Endowment to University of Hull)
  • January 1990 – September 2015



Cancer ResearchMechanisms regulating the reparative functions of MRC1+TIE2+ macrophages in chemotherapy-treated tumours

Chemotherapy is commonly used to prevent or slow the growth and spread of cancer. White blood cells known as macrophages are recruited from the bloodstream into tumours following chemotherapy. They then help the tumour to recover after the treatment has finished, leading to regrowth and spread of the tumour. This project aims to isolate these cells in the bloodstream during/after chemotherapy so they can be targeted with new therapies that prevent their entry into tumours, and thus their relapse-promoting effect. High levels of these cells in the blood after chemotherapy could also be used to identify patients likely to relapse more quickly than others after chemotherapy.


  • Principle investigator: Professor Claire Lewis
  • University of Sheffield
  • Award amount: £68,292
  • September 2013 – August 2016



Cancer ResearchMolecules and mechanisms central to breast cancer metastasis to bone: A quantitative proteomics approach

Despite progress in breast cancer treatment, 1,000 Yorkshire women still develop advanced, incurable breast cancer every year, where the cancer spreads to the bones. This causes pain, fractures and other complications. Professor Brown and the team are working to determine more precisely how cancer spreads to bone in order to develop tests to predict the risk of this occurring, and to discover new targets for drugs. This will allow treatments to be provided to the patients who will benefit most.


  • Principle investigator: Professor Janet Brown
  • University of Sheffield
  • Award amount: £198,671
  • January 2014 – December 2016



Cancer ResearchExploiting male breast carcinoma transcriptomics to identify new prognostic, predictive or therapeutic targets

Although often perceived as a female disease, breast cancer also occurs in men, and the number of men being diagnosed is increasing. In Yorkshire this number has doubled in the last 20 years. Studies have shown that the biology of these cancers is fundamentally different, but male breast cancer is currently treated in the same way as female breast cancer.
Professor Speirs and her team have assembled a large collection of male breast cancer samples which they will examine to discover more about the differences between these cancers. This research will help to identify new targets for therapy and develop specific treatments for male breast cancer.


  • Principle investigator: Professor Valerie Speirs
  • University of Leeds
  • Award amount: £197,607
  • March 2014 – April 2017



Cancer ResearchUnravelling the mechanisms of bone metastasis as a pathway to improved therapies

Advanced breast and prostate cancers often spread to bone, and there are no effective therapies available to combat this. Professor Holen and her team have developed model systems which allow this process to be investigated and manipulated. Through use of these models they aim to establish how cancer cells colonise and grow in bone, and how drugs can be used to stop this from happening.


  • Principle investigator: Professor Ingunn Holen
  • University of Sheffield
  • Award amount: £71,703
  • October 2014 – September 2017



Cancer ResearchMenopausal status modifies breast cancer progression and response to therapy

When breast cancer spreads to the skeleton it can no longer be cured, so it is vitally important to find ways of preventing this from happening in the first place. Clinical trials have shown a significant difference between post- and pre-menopausal women in how treatments reduce breast cancer spread to bone. Professor Holen and her team have found that this may be due to changes in reproductive hormone levels, and they now want to discover how and why this happens.
This research may lead to the development of new treatment strategies to reduce cancer spread to the skeleton, meaning women will receive the treatment most likely to benefit them.


  • Principle investigator: Professor Ingunn Holen
  • University of Sheffield
  • Award amount: £213,524
  • September 2015- March 2019