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Monthly breast cancer research update – June 2017

July 4th, 2017

Exciting results from breast cancer research in June included promising announcements of more funding for improving breast cancer surgery, better understanding of why young women get breast cancer and promising news about future treatments for breast cancers caused by a mutation in the BRCA genes. It’s great to see researchers here in Australia and around the world contributing to our knowledge of breast cancer and how to stop deaths.


Kick-started with seed-funding from NBCF, Professor Brendan Kennedy has progressed his research on a smart surgical glove that will reduce the number of surgeries a woman with breast cancer may need to remove all tumour cells from the lab bench into clinical trials, securing another $6 million from the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund.

Young women

Researchers collaborating in NZ and Australia have discovered that women who develop breast cancer at a young age are missing DNA. “We think these pieces of DNA that are missing may have overlapped genes or involved genes that have contributed to the early onset of breast cancer,” says Dr Logan Walker from Otago University. He hopes the finding could one day identify women at risk of developing cancer at a young age, and improve treatment and survival rates.


Carriers of the faulty BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers than the general population, and now a long-term study has provided a clearer view of the risk these women face.

The large Australian collaborative study found that by 80 years of age:

  • Women with BRCA1 mutations have on average a 72% risk of developing breast cancer
  • Women BRCA2 mutation carriers have a 69% risk of developing breast cancer

National Breast Cancer Foundation Director of Research Investment, Dr Alessandra Muntoni said, “The strength of this study is that it provides a more robust estimate of the level of risk in carriers of BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. There is now more certainty about their ongoing risk which helps to refine the framework for early detection, ultimately saving more lives.”

breast cancer risk

Triple negative

Women with an inherited mutation in their BRCA gene make up less than five per cent of all breast cancer cases (that’s less than 879 of the 17,586 diagnoses estimated in 20171). Many women with breast cancer from the BRCA gene develop a form of breast cancer called triple negative breast cancer which can be very aggressive and hard to treat effectively. The results from a new study show that a new drug, belonging to the class of drugs called PARP Inhibitors, is producing exciting results in women with advanced BRCA-related breast cancer.

Director of Research Investment at the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Dr Alessandra Muntoni says, “The results of this study give hope to many women living with triple negative breast cancer that comes from an inherited BRCA mutation. These are exciting results that could help these women live longer in the future.”

Another study has found that piggy-backing chemotherapy with two drugs that fire up the body’s immune system completely stops the growth of aggressive triple negative breast cancer caused by a faulty BRCA gene. The study was a collaboration between immunotherapy researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre using human tumours.