Scientists have found that Tamoxifen, a frequently used drug for breast cancer, is now ineffective in treating the disease.

The cancer cells have developed resistance to the drug causing it to be ineffective.

This has put oncologists in a jam as they are unable to detect the resistance among the patients and finding it extremely difficult in following the treatment routine.

Scientists have now found molecular flags to make the detection of resistant patients easier. The paper was published in the journal PLOS ONE.


Tamoxifen – How It Works

The team of researchers from Paterson Institute for Cancer Research, Manchester has identified the molecular flag to determine which patients will respond to the treatment with Tamoxifen and then decode on the line of treatment.

According to the study, Tamoxifen is said to be ineffective in one-third of women affected by estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. Given that this type of breast cancer accounts for 70% of the cases, the importance of the research has a huge bearing on the way doctors treat their breast cancer patients.

So far, tamoxifen has been used alongside traditional chemotherapy and radiation treatments. If doctors have a handy diagnostic tool to determine the response to the drug, then it is a great time gain for the patient and influences the total outcome of the treatment.

The Molecular Flag – How It Was Discovered

The research team discovered that fibroblast cells (those that make up the connective tissue) of the connective tissue adjoin the tumor, differ from patient to patient. This pattern provides clue to the tamoxifen response. For this they analyzed 564 women suffering from invasive breast cancer, treated with tamoxifen. These women were later tested for the molecular flags and the results correlated with the response to tamoxifen treatment.

It was found that women with low levels of the protein pERK in their fibroblasts failed to respond to tamoxifen. This was pegged as the molecular flag and the test was tailored around the detection of this protein in the patients posted for tamoxifen treatment.

Future Research

Further research on how fibroblasts help in the growth of the tumor will lead to development of novel strategies to block signals from the cells and overcome drug resistance.