Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Evaluation of the current knowledge limitations in breast cancer research: a gap analysis

Alastair Thompson1*, Keith Brennan2, Angela Cox3, Julia Gee4, Diana Harcourt5, Adrian Harris6, Michelle Harvie7, Ingunn Holen8, Anthony Howell9, Robert Nicholson4, Michael Steel10, Charles Streuli2 and Breast Cancer Campaign Gap Analysis Meeting (2 November 2006, London, UK)

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology, University of Dundee, Ninewells Avenue, Dundee DD1 9SY, UK

2 Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Matrix Research, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PT, UK

3 Institute for Cancer Studies, University of Sheffield Medical School, Beech Hill Road, Sheffield S10 2RX, UK

4 Tenovus Centre for Cancer Research, Welsh School of Pharmacy, Cardiff University, Redwood Building, King Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff CF10 3NB, UK

5 The Centre for Appearance Research, School of Psychology University of the West of England, Frenchay Campus, Coldharbour Lane, Bristol BS16 1QY, UK

6 Cancer Research UK Molecular Oncology Laboratories, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, John Radcliffe Hospital, University of Oxford, Headley Way, Headington, Oxford OX3 9DS, UK

7 Family History Clinic, Nightingale & Genesis Prevention Centre, Wythenshawe Hospital, Southmoor Road, Manchester M23 9LT, UK

8 Academic Unit of Clinical Oncology, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University of Sheffield, Beech Hill Road, Sheffield S10 2RX, UK

9 Breast Cancer Prevention Centre, South Manchester University Hospitals NHS Trust, Wilmslow Road, Manchester M20 4BX, UK

10 University of St Andrews, Bute Medical School, University of St Andrews, Fife KT16 9TS, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

Breast Cancer Research 2008, 10:R26  doi:10.1186/bcr1983

Published: 27 March 2008



A gap analysis was conducted to determine which areas of breast cancer research, if targeted by researchers and funding bodies, could produce the greatest impact on patients.


Fifty-six Breast Cancer Campaign grant holders and prominent UK breast cancer researchers participated in a gap analysis of current breast cancer research. Before, during and following the meeting, groups in seven key research areas participated in cycles of presentation, literature review and discussion. Summary papers were prepared by each group and collated into this position paper highlighting the research gaps, with recommendations for action.


Gaps were identified in all seven themes. General barriers to progress were lack of financial and practical resources, and poor collaboration between disciplines. Critical gaps in each theme included: (1) genetics (knowledge of genetic changes, their effects and interactions); (2) initiation of breast cancer (how developmental signalling pathways cause ductal elongation and branching at the cellular level and influence stem cell dynamics, and how their disruption initiates tumour formation); (3) progression of breast cancer (deciphering the intracellular and extracellular regulators of early progression, tumour growth, angiogenesis and metastasis); (4) therapies and targets (understanding who develops advanced disease); (5) disease markers (incorporating intelligent trial design into all studies to ensure new treatments are tested in patient groups stratified using biomarkers); (6) prevention (strategies to prevent oestrogen-receptor negative tumours and the long-term effects of chemoprevention for oestrogen-receptor positive tumours); (7) psychosocial aspects of cancer (the use of appropriate psychosocial interventions, and the personal impact of all stages of the disease among patients from a range of ethnic and demographic backgrounds).


Through recommendations to address these gaps with future research, the long-term benefits to patients will include: better estimation of risk in families with breast cancer and strategies to reduce risk; better prediction of drug response and patient prognosis; improved tailoring of treatments to patient subgroups and development of new therapeutic approaches; earlier initiation of treatment; more effective use of resources for screening populations; and an enhanced experience for people with or at risk of breast cancer and their families. The challenge to funding bodies and researchers in all disciplines is to focus on these gaps and to drive advances in knowledge into improvements in patient care.