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Australian women could benefit from 3D breast screening in the next 5 years

February 23rd, 2016

The National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) has awarded its inaugural Breast Cancer Leadership Fellowship Grant, worth $1.75 million over five years, to Professor Nehmat Houssami, University of Sydney, for a world-first research program to accelerate the evidence on the value of advanced breast screening technology and to inform development of international best practice.

Professor Houssami previously showed that 3D mammography has a 33 per cent higher detection rate than current mammographic screening technology. However, there is no evidence that the technology will reduce the risk of a woman developing breast cancer between screenings. This evidence is required before public health programs adopt 3D technology.

3D mammograms are available in some private clinics in Australia, but they are not backed by enough evidence to show that they provide better outcomes than standard screening.

Professor Nehmat Houssami explains, “Worldwide there are no public-funded screening programs routinely using 3D mammography, this is because there is no evidence that it will have a true impact on the reduction of breast cancer deaths.

“The evidence from this research project will prompt decisions on whether 3D mammography should be adopted as a primary screening strategy in Australia and globally. If the findings are what we hope then this possibility could be initiated sooner rather than later.”

The main element of this multi-pronged research program aims to improve outcomes for Australian women, including those with dense breast tissue, by ensuring that 3D mammography evidence is available to inform on the most effective screening methods.

NBCF’s Director of research, Alessandra Muntoni says, “Early detection remains a crucial tool to improve survival outcomes for women. The technology is available and we expect that it will save lives. This grant is a major step in the right direction for making sure that Australians stop dying unnecessarily from breast cancer that could have been caught early.”

Professor Houssami’s program also aims to ensure every woman receives best-practice by contributing to developing international breast cancer surgery guidelines. Recommendations from the research program will be integrated into guidelines and will be immediately available to clinicians, so they can provide the best informed and evidence-based surgical treatment to patients from the initial point of contact. These guidelines also aim to reduce unnecessary surgery for those with non-invasive breast cancers.

Alessandra Muntoni added, “Our aim is to fund research that delivers tangible benefits to breast cancer patients. That means we must support leaders who can facilitate the translation of their research findings into policy and practice.

“Funding breast cancer researchers, rather than individual projects, is vital to ensure we are making progress in understanding breast cancer at all levels – from basic research through to translation of treatments and prevention or detection strategies. Professor Houssami is a leader in her field. Her contributions are internationally recognised and she’s playing a pioneering role in new breast imaging technologies with world-first studies.’’

The grant, NBCF’s largest and most prestigious, is designed to provide the research leader with security and stability over a sustained period of time, allowing them to focus on critical areas of research, ask big picture questions and achieve significant improvements for people with breast cancer.

Professor Houssami will commence her projects this year with a team of local and international researchers, whom she will mentor to provide the next generation of scientists with the skills to become the next leaders in the field.

Professor Houssami and Alessandra Muntoni were interviewed for a Channel 9 health story on how this research will benefit Australian women.