A new study published in the journal Breast Cancer Research has identified 10 “critical gaps” that exist in the research of the disease, which could see the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives if not addressed urgently.

Researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research in London and the University of Dundee have conducted what they say is the most “comprehensive review of breast cancer to have ever taken place,” called the Gap Analysis 2013, which has been facilitated by leading UK breast cancer charity Breast Cancer Campaign.

They say the analysis provides information regarding the knowledge and activity needed in order to “prevent, cure and outlive” breast cancer by 2050.

The researchers have identified and prioritized gaps in key areas, including genetics, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and support, which they say if tackled, could have a significant impact on the lives of those affected.

The 10 gaps identified are:

  1. Understanding how genetic changes lead to the development of breast cancer.
  2. Identifying sustainable lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, which can reduce the risk of breast cancer, and improved chemoprevention for women at increased risk of the disease.
  3. Targeting breast screening at those who will benefit most through finding accurate and practical ways to calculate a woman’s individual risk for breast cancer.
  4. Understanding the molecules and processes that encourage different types of breast cancer to grow, as well as those that allow breast cancer tumors to become resistant to treatments and spread to other areas.
  5. Understanding how cancer cells with different characteristics form within a tumor, why cancer cells sometimes go into hibernation, and why some breast cancers are resistant to treatment from the beginning while others take time.
  6. Developing tests to predict patients’ response to chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
  7. Understanding how to use combinations of drugs and other therapies to improve and tailor treatments for each individual.
  8. Developing better ways of using imaging to diagnose breast cancer, track how the disease responds to treatments and monitor its spread throughout the body.
  9. Providing practical and effective support to help people deal with the emotional impacts of breast cancer and the side effects of treatment.
  10. Collecting tumor tissue and blood samples donated by breast cancer patients at different stages of their disease, as well as detailed information of each patient, to help study the disease and develop new treatments.

The researchers then identified five “key strategic solutions,” which they say will help close the 10 research gaps. These are:

  1. Reverse the decline in resources targeted toward breast cancer research.
  2. Develop a fully cohesive and collaborative infrastructure to support breast cancer research, including access to “appropriate, well annotated clinical material.”
  3. Improve the ways in which breast cancer is studied, and identify accurate methods to use in clinical practice to predict patients’ response to treatments.
  4. Encourage collaboration between researchers in different scientific fields.
  5. Improve clinical trial design to “better meet the complexity of modern treatment options,” and involve patients in this process.

Alastair Thompson, of the University of Dundee and study author, says he believes the impact of the Gap Analysis could be immediate:

It gives us scientific rationale to change clinical practice. For example, currently, metastatic disease is not biopsied in order to tailor treatment, but this could change the way one in six women are treated and provide hope to women with secondary breast cancer, with limited treatment options.”

The research has led to a new action plan for Breast Cancer Campaign, called “Help us find the Cures.” The action plan sets out a series of targets to help overcome breast cancer by the year 2050.

The charity is aiming for 25% fewer individuals to develop secondary breast cancer by 2020, and by 2030, they hope more than half of those who do develop this will live longer than 5 years.

By 2023, the charity plans to have a “fully cohesive and collaborative” global infrastructure in place to support breast cancer research. This includes the provision of tissue samples and bioinformatics – improving methods for storing, retrieving, organizing and analyzing biological data.

They plan to ensure breast cancer risk is more predictable by 2025, with up to 20% of all breast cancers prevented, and 60% will be diagnosed before they are symptomatic.

Furthermore, they plan that all women diagnosed with breast cancer and people close to them will receive individually tailored information and support to meet their needs.

The organization is aiming for all patients to benefit from individual care and treatment by 2030, and they plan to have identified what causes different tumors to grow and progress.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Campaign, stresses the importance of acting on the findings of the Gap Analysis:

We want future mothers, daughters and wives to have their breast cancer prevented, cured or for them to outlive the disease, and hope that together we can achieve this by 2050.”

Medical News Today recently reported on a study that suggested the majority of deaths from breast cancer occur in younger women who do not have regular mammograms.