A new study could bring hope to thousands of women who are susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, the Telegraph reports. Analyzing breast tissue prone to cancer, Australian scientists found that a protein that fuels pre-cancerous cells also causes osteoporisis—and can be stymied by a common osteoporosis drug. "It is very exciting to think that we may be on the path to the 'Holy grail' of cancer research, devising a way to prevent this type of breast cancer in women at high genetic risk," says study co-author Jane Visvader. Published in Nature Medicine, the study looked at breast tissue in mice and three women with a faulty BRCA1 genetic mutation that carries a high risk of aggressive breast cancer, per a press release.
When the osteoporosis drug denosumab was applied to the tissue, pre-cancerous cells stopped dividing; when used on BRCA1 mice, two thirds of them developed no tumors, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. For the roughly one in 400 women who carry the mutation, this could be a way around surgery. That wasn't an option for Angelina Jolie, who underwent a double mastectomy and hysterectomy upon learning she had what's now dubbed the "Jolie Gene." But Australian mom Kylie Gellie, who had her breasts, ovaries, and fallopian tubes removed, says her two young daughters may now be able to avoid surgery even if they inherit the gene. "Maybe they don't have to go through such drastic measures as I did or maybe it can buy them some time," she says. A worldwide human trial should be starting within two years. (Meanwhile, double mastectomies are on the rise—among men.)