How research is making a difference

With early detection a major factor in preventing deaths from breast cancer, researchers are working on more effective methods to detect the initial development of breast cancer. They are also seeking ways of monitoring and detecting when breast cancer returns and spreads to other parts of the body.

Currently, the gold standard in early detection is regular mammographic screening which has been proven to save lives. Researchers are looking to improve the sensitivity of mammograms to more accurately detect tumours. Women who may be experiencing symptoms of breast cancer should see their GP as soon as possible.

3D mammography / tomosynthesis

3D mammography, also known as breast tomosynthesis, is a type of digital mammography in which x-ray machines are used to take pictures of thin slices of the breast from different angles and computer software is used to reconstruct an image. It is not yet determined whether 3D mammography is more effective in reducing deaths between check-ups and avoiding false positive results. NBCF is funding Professor Nehmat Houssami whose research will provide the data to underpin approval for 3D mammography to be included in the national breast screening program.

Professor Nehmat Houssami
3D-mammographic screening trial

Double reading mammograms

NBCF is funding Professor Patrick Brennan who is running a trial program that aims to improve the accuracy of mammogram reading by ensuring that a mammogram scan is always read twice to pick up any errors – this helps to avoid false positives and is seeing good results so far.

No harm, no touch detection

Mammograms save lives through early detection, but they also deliver small amounts of radiation and women often find the process uncomfortable. NBCF has funded Professor Martin Ebert who is using engineering principles and applying them to detecting breast cancer. This method would be harmless, painless and more sensitive so it can detect tumours in dense breast tissue (often found in young women).

Liquid biopsies / blood tests

Researchers know that tumour cells release circulating DNA (ctDNA) into the blood, which would make a liquid biopsy (blood sample) a cost-effective and less invasive diagnostic and prognostic tool for determining if cancer has moved beyond the primary site and is spreading to other parts of the body through the blood. This is still a work in progress, and NBCF funds Professor Kirill Alexandrov who is developing a blood test that can be read at home on a smartphone.

Professor Alexandrov is developing a blood test for metastatic breast cancer