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Dr Dinny Graham answers questions about triple negative breast cancer

November 17th, 2016

Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) is an area that prompts many questions because we don’t know as much about it as other types of breast cancer. That’s why we enlisted the help of NBCF-funded Dr Dinny Graham to talk about her research and advancements in this area and answer questions in real-time on our Facebook page.

We’ll recap the conversation between Dr Graham and our online community for those who missed it, but first here’s a refresher on why TNBC is an important area for research.

Breast cancers are divided roughly into three groups based on certain receptors linked to hormones or proteins that can be activated or blocked with targeted treatments, which make up around three quarters of all breast cancers. TNBC is a fourth group made up of any breast cancer that tests negative for all three of the known hormone or protein receptors.

Triple negative breast cancers are difficult to treat because they do not have these receptor targets and therefore we do not yet have any targeted therapies to offer. They are typically more aggressive and more prevalent in younger women.

Dr Graham’s research focuses on the effects of hormones on breast cancer growth.
She uses cutting edge technology to study genes and better our understanding of the disease.
In 2016, she received an NBCF pilot study grant to investigate novel targeted treatments
and personalised tests for triple negative breast cancer.

During the 30 minute live Q&A one of the first questions she was asked was, “Are there genes responsible for tnbc?” Dr Graham responded that, “Triple negative breast cancer is not always linked to genes that are inherited, sometimes genes can become randomly damaged which also leads to this type of breast cancer. Research profiling some commonly damaged genes in triple negative breast cancer has identified several known mutated genes for which therapies are being trialled, and this gives hope that more targeted treatments will still be available.”

Another member of our Facebook community wanted to know if there are “any tests, trials, research etc which are focusing on the cause of this cancer?” Dr Graham said, “Triple negative breast cancer is caused much like other cancers: by damaging changes to DNA. But studies have revealed a number of genes that are altered in triple negative breast cancer and researchers are looking for treatments that target these genes. Trials are generally treatment focused. In my lab my team is testing novel treatments that are showing promise and could go quickly into clinical trials for women with triple negative breast cancer.”

Our audience also wanted to know “why triple negative breast cancer is so aggressive?” Dr Graham admits that, “This is not well understood, but may relate to the cell type that gave rise to the breast cancer. We now understand that the tissue of the normal breast comprises multiple different cell types, with different specialised functions. It is possible that triple negative breast cancers arise from a cell type that is intrinsically more capable of cell division and therefore likely to have a more active proliferation cycle. This equates to a more aggressive characteristic.”

This topic really struck a chord with our Facebook community and we’re pleased that Dr Graham was able to answer so many questions in such a short time.

It was great to see that her time and expertise was valued,
with posts like this: “Inspiring to read the work you
and your team are doing Dr Graham. Keep it up!”

Until next time – we’re planning to host another live Q&A with a researcher in early 2017. See you there!