New support program for young women with a high risk of BC

March 5th, 2014

Melbourne researcher Dr Laura Forrest has received funding from the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) to develop a groundbreaking support program for young women who are at high risk of developing breast cancer.

The program will be the first Australian psychosocial support program for young women who have BRCA gene mutations and are at a time in their lives in which they may need to make decisions regarding family planning and risk-reducing surgery.

Dr Forrest’s four-year grant is one of more than 20 NBCF-funded projects that begin this year. With total funding of more than $8.5 million, the projects include 12 Novel Concept Awards for innovative, cutting-edge projects, and eight new fellowships to help train and develop the next generation of breast cancer research leaders.

Dr Forrest’s research project is supported by NBCF pink diamond sponsor Women in Super Mother’s Day Classic, which has provided $19.8 million to NBCF since 1998.

NBCF Director, Research Investment, Dr Alison Butt, said the 2014 grants address “areas of need” as identified by the foundation’s Research Advisory Committee, and through consultation with the community.

“The needs of young women with breast cancer and research into advanced, metastatic disease were two of the priorities identified and we’re pleased to be announcing new funding that focuses on these areas,” said Dr Butt.

Dr Forrest, from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, said increasing numbers of young women are finding out that they carry BRCA gene mutations, which significantly increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

A recent study in the Medical Journal of Australia* reported that referrals to two familial cancer clinics in Victoria immediately doubled after actress Angelina Jolie announced in May last year that she carried a BRCA 1 gene mutation and had had a preventive double mastectomy.

Dr Forrest became aware of the needs of younger women who have BRCA gene mutations while working with the genetic counselling team in the Familial Cancer Centre at Peter Mac. While their medical needs were well covered, she found there were limited programs to provide emotional and psychosocial support.

Women who carry BRCA gene mutations can choose to have regular mammograms to detect breast cancer early or they can opt for a double mastectomy. Dr Forrest said they may also be encouraged to have their ovaries removed before the age of 40 to prevent ovarian cancer.

These options are aimed at minimising a young woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, but they can have far-reaching social and emotional consequences, affecting a young woman’s body image, intimate relationships and fertility.

Dr Forrest said these young women are finding out that they carry the BRCA gene at a time when many are establishing relationships and considering having children.

“How do you explain to a potential partner that you might decide to have a double mastectomy, as well as have your ovaries removed by the age of 40?” Dr Forrest said.

“Without the appropriate level of support, for some women these difficulties and decisions can be quite a burden,” Dr Forrest said.

Dr Forrest will use NBCF funds to interview 40 women aged between 18 and 40 years who carry the BRCA gene mutation to gauge their views on the best model of support.

She will then use this input to develop a tailored support program.

About the National Breast Cancer Foundation
NBCF is Australia’s leading community-supported organisation funding breast cancer research. These projects form part of over $8.5 million of new funding to start in 2014.  This year is a milestone for the organisation as it marks 20 years, and more than $105 million of investment in breast cancer research.

About the Women in Super Mother’s Day Classic
Women in Super Mother’s Day Classic is Australia’s largest breast cancer research fundraiser and aims to celebrate the lives of those affected by breast cancer while raising funds for breast cancer research. Since its inception, men, women and children have walked or run the Mother’s Day Classic, raising $19.8 million for breast cancer research.