Addenbrooke's Charitable Trust

Personalised breast cancer programme

Revolutionising breast cancer care

AlisonA team in Cambridge is at the forefront of pioneering global research into the development of ‘personalised’ care for breast cancer patients that in future will allow doctors to give more precise diagnosis and treatment based on the unique genetic profile of each patient’s tumour.


In collaboration with researchers in Canada, Professor Carlos Caldas, who heads up the Cambridge team, recently published results of landmark international study which undertook genomic analyses of 2,000 frozen breast tumour samples and compared these with the long-term outcomes of each patient. It was one of the largest global studies of breast cancer tissue ever performed and it revealed that breast cancer could be categorised into ten different tumour types, including some new subgroups that had not been identified previously, each with distinct disease outcomes. 

The findings marked a breakthrough in the understanding of the underlying genetics of breast cancer and how it impacts disease prognosis and patient outcomes. Importantly, these results heralded a major step towards developing a more precise diagnosis and a more effective treatment pathway for breast cancer patients than is currently possible.

The future

ACT raised £1.1 million to initiate a new study, the Personalised Breast Cancer Program, which aims to take this work to the next level by testing and validating the research findings prospectively in the real-life setting of a breast cancer clinic – the Cambridge Breast Unit – over the next five years. This approach is unique within the United Kingdom and is at the forefront of breast cancer research world-wide.

  • The objective of the study is to sequence the whole genome of breast cancer patients to produce a ‘mutation barcode’. This genomic information will then be used as a predictive tool to classify patients into prognostic groups, according to the above 10-point classification, and help guide patient care.

  • Novel technology to measure circulating tumour DNA in patient’s blood samples will also be employed to monitor response to treatment and detect disease relapse at an early stage. This technique has already been used successfully in patients with B-cell lymphoma to identify patients at risk of recurrence before there is clinical evidence of disease.

  • Ultimately, the programme will generate a database of around 1,700 breast cancer patients with full characterisation of their tumours that with long-term follow-up can be directly linked to outcomes.

The long-term goals of the programme are to revolutionise the way people with breast cancer are diagnosed and treated. Personalised diagnosis and care tailored to each individual’s unique, detailed genetic makeup has the potential to deliver significant patient benefits in terms of better disease outcomes, however its effectiveness must first be proved in clinical practice before it can be implemented more widely. The programme aims to confirm these valuable benefits with the goal of advancing the development of personalised breast cancer care. 

Such personalised medicine holds great promise, and it is essential to carry out a programme of this nature so that its effectiveness can be proved in clinical practice before it can be more widely implemented within the NHS.