NBCF poll reveals knowledge gaps in metastatic breast cancer recurrence, treatment and survival

April 21st, 2017

Australians support  more research into  breast cancer’s biggest killer

7 April 2017: A new research poll by the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF)  has shown that the majority of  Australians (83%) understand that breast cancer can spread beyond the breast and that this stage (called metastatic) is the most deadly (88%).

However, when digging deeper into the issue, the research highlighted knowledge gaps, with only three per cent of Australians realising that breast cancer can stay dormant in the body for more than 10 years.

Metastatic breast cancer is the biggest killer for patients with this condition and is a major area of focus for the National Breast Cancer Foundation,” said Dr Alessandra Muntoni, Director of Research Investment at NBCF.

“Through investing in research, we aim to ensure better and more timely detection, prediction, diagnosis and treatment for all stages of breast cancer, to save the lives of Australian women and men. However, there are many challenges to overcome to reach that goal,” she continued.

Metastatic breast cancer, which is also known as advanced, secondary or Stage 4  breast cancer, is challenging to treat. The survival rate of women that have metastatic breast cancer at first diagnosis is alarmingly low, with only 1  in 4 women still alive 5 years after diagnosis.[i]

In developed countries like Australia, around 20-30% of women who have been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer will go on to develop metastatic breast cancer.[ii] This can sometimes occur more than 10-15 years after the original diagnosis.[iii]

“We know that breast cancer cells can remain dormant for long periods of time and appear in distant organs many years later,” said Dr Muntoni. “Research groups around the world are trying to understand how cancer cells become resistant to treatments, spread to other parts of the body and what triggers these dormant cells to start growing again.”

“This type of research is essential to provide answers for the women and men who live in fear of their cancer recurring.” Dr Muntoni said that significant in-roads have been made in the last few years, but a lot more research is needed to fully understand this problem.

According to NBCF’s poll, Australians are well informed about the primary reasons for the return of breast cancer such as cancer cells spreading beyond the breast (63%) and not all cancer cells being killed during initial treatment (60%). Studies have shown that a healthy lifestyle[iv] may be beneficial in reducing the risk of breast cancer relapse, however, only 13% of Australians are aware of this as a contributing factor.

Despite Australians being well aware that Stage 1 (91%) and Stage 2 (77%) breast cancer can be successfully treated, they become less sure about what can be done at the later stages of the disease, with 59% incorrectly believing or not knowing whether Stage 4 can be successfully treated.

Australians know that once diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, their treatment will be ongoing and they will need to manage their condition for the rest of their lives (67%).

“Australians know that metastatic breast cancer is challenging to treat. Our aim at NBCF is to create a more optimistic future where breast cancer is a condition you live with, rather than die of, and the only way to do that is through research.

“Right now, researchers are tackling metastatic breast cancer from many angles and each has the potential to make a life-changing difference for women in Australia and across the globe. We are doing our part, with 50 per cent of the projects funded by NBCF in 2017 focusing on metastatic breast cancer,” continued Dr Muntoni.

Research into metastatic breast cancer is supported by Australians, with two-thirds wanting to see advancements in immunotherapy, an innovative type of treatment that could be a major breakthrough in the near future.

NBCF recently funded Dr Paul Beavis (Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre) who is reprogramming white blood cells so the immune system can recognise, find and destroy any cancer in the body.

Australians were also interested (44%) in research to progress the development of targeted treatments for this stage of the disease.

NBCF-funded researcher Dr Normand Pouliot (Olivia Newton-John cancer Research Centre) is investigating treatments that will work specifically on a particularly aggressive subtype of breast cancer called triple negative breast cancer, which has a high likelihood of becoming metastatic.[v]

One third of Australians are interested in developing new technology that can detect the spread of breast cancer.

Developing a blood test, or liquid biopsy, is central to the work being conducted by NBCF-funded research Dr Sarah-Jane Dawson (Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre). This type of test could predict if and when breast cancer is returning, alleviating some of the fear related to its return and helping women access available treatments as soon as possible.

“Too many women are dying from breast cancer, but research gives hope for the future providing a legacy of better health and well-being for the generations of women that will come after us,” concluded Dr Muntoni.

 

References

[i] Global Status of Advanced / Metastatic Breast Cancer, 2005-2015 Decade Report, March 2016 http://www.breastcancervision.com/sites/default/files/Decade%20Report_Full%20Report_Final-Linked.pdf

[ii] Global Status of Advanced / Metastatic Breast Cancer, 2005-2015 Decade Report, March 2016 http://www.breastcancervision.com/sites/default/files/Decade%20Report_Full%20Report_Final-Linked.pdf

[iii] Global Status of Advanced / Metastatic Breast Cancer, 2005-2015 Decade Report, March 2016 http://www.breastcancervision.com/sites/default/files/Decade%20Report_Full%20Report_Final-Linked.pdf

[iv] World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Report. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Breast Cancer. London: WCRF International, 2010. Albuquerque RC, Baltar VT, Marchioni DM. Breast cancer and dietary patterns: A systematic review. Nutr Rev 2014;72(1):1–17

[v] Boyle. P, Triple negative breast cancer: epidemiological considerations and recommendations, Annals of Oncology 2012 23 Suppl 6;vi7-12