Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Australian women with 1 in 8 women being affected. Although about 100 times more common in women, men can also develop breast cancer. (Source – National Breast Cancer Foundation)
Hunter researchers are interested in understanding how breast cancer develops, and identifying reliable biomarkers and genetic risks to reduce the number of women and men who die from the disease each year.
Alexis shares her breast cancer story including her experience taking part in the ANZBCTG clinical research trial.
In 2013, Hunter researchers discovered that a breast cancer drug can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by a huge 53% in high-risk post-menopausal women. Many breast cancers are fuelled by the hormone oestrogen. The drug works by preventing the body from making oestrogen and has been used to treat postmenopausal women with oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer.
"This landmark study shows that the drug could be valuable in helping to prevent breast cancer in women at higher than average risk of disease. We now need accurate tests that will predict which women will most benefit” explains study leader Professor John Forbes.
The genetics behind breast cancer development are also an important research aspect for Hunter researchers who have identified a significant new risk factor for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), impacting women who would currently fall outside genetic testing benchmarks for the disease. The term “triple negative” refers to breast cancer cells lacking the expression of three common receptors (oestrogen, progesterone and HER2). With targeted hormonal therapies currently being ineffective, typical treatment comprises a combination of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Thanks to new state-of-the-art technology at HMRI, called Next-Gen sequencing, Hunter researchers are able to conduct genetic testing which was previously too expensive and time consuming to run of a large sample of patients in order to find emerging patterns of genetic variability.
The potentially deadly BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations were found in almost 10% of TNBC patients included in the study. Of those, 59 per cent of the mutation carriers had no prior family history of breast cancer and therefore may have not have otherwise been genetically tested.
Current breast cancer research is also testing new targeted treatments for different sub types of breast cancer, optimal use of radiotherapy for early breast cancer, and strategies to manage long-term risk after breast cancer to prevent it recurring.
Each year, HMRI hosts a breast cancer lunch for survivors, patients and supporters to remember and recognise their family and friends and also support the important research being in breast cancer prevention and treatment.
Hunter researchers are also involved in the Australia and New Zealand Breast Cancer Trails Group (ANZBCTG) which is the largest independent, oncology clinical trials research group in Australia and New Zealand. It has for more than 30 years conducted clinical trials for the treatment, prevention and cure of breast cancer.