Whose breast cancer recurs?

Professor Peeter Karihtala develops means to identify cancer patients who require different therapies.

What are your research topics?

The idea underpinning most of my research projects is the study of how to differentiate from apparently similar cases of cancer the cases which are likely to recur later and therefore require more effective treatments and perhaps closer monitoring as well. My primary target is breast cancer, but I also study other cancers to a degree. 

Where and how does the topic of your research have an impact?

In some breast cancer patients, the disease recurs in spite of even quite harsh treatments, while in others an apparently similar cancer can be cured with a minor surgery. Differentiating between these groups is a major practical problem. 

We have identified a range of factors relating to patient and tumour characteristics as well as the other drugs used by the patient, with which the prognosis of breast cancer patients could be made increasingly accurate. 

In addition, I am contributing as a researcher to clinical drug trials where breast cancer patients are provided with the chance to receive the newest therapies that are not yet available on the market. 

At some point in their lives, every third Finn develops some type of cancer, and one in eight women will develop breast cancer. New knowledge helps us target both old and new therapies at the patients who will benefit the most from them. This also helps to avoid unnecessary treatments. 

What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?

Good treatment outcomes among my patients are always pleasing. It is also nice to see that the increased efficacy of novel treatments does not mean an increase in adverse effects. Instead, many new therapies are clearly better tolerated than earlier options.  

Moreover, it has been inspiring to witness, at close range, the broad-based nature of cancer research collaboration between the Helsinki University Hospital and the University of Helsinki, and the passion of the researchers. 


Peeter Karihtala is the professor of oncology at the Faculty of Medicine.

Read about the other newly appointed professors.