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Improving diagnosis and treatment selection

November 9th, 2016

There have been dramatic improvements in the outcome for those with breast cancer over the past 20 years, culminating in a five-year survival of 90 per cent. Nonetheless, there remain challenges in diagnosing and treating breast cancer. NBCF funds research that aims to provide clinicians with more information at a molecular level of the disease so that they can tailor treatments according to the genetic characteristics of each tumour and individual.

Professor Sandra O’Toole
Group Leader, Translational Breast Cancer Research, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, NSW

Professor Sandra O’Toole
Professor Sandra O’Toole is using cutting edge analysis techniques that will provide more reliable data to inform diagnosis and tailored treatment plans .

Molecular pathology can provide a better understanding of the genetic changes in breast cancers and help select the best treatment for each patient.

Molecular pathology focuses on the study and diagnosis of disease by examining the molecules within organs, tissues or bodily fluids. This is done using cutting edge techniques, such as advanced genomic sequencing, including whole genome sequencing.

In this study, Professor Sandra O’Toole will use these technologies to assess thousands of mutations in cancer genes in breast tumour samples. Her goal is to understand the molecular changes in breast cancers associated with response to chemotherapy and therefore to improve decision-making and treatment options. It is hoped this approach may further improve the survival of breast cancer patients.

The data may provide the information clinicians are currently lacking to confidently select which patients are likely to benefit from chemotherapy and those who may be safely spared this toxic therapy.

It may also help predict which patients with pre-cancerous breast changes likely to go onto develop invasive carcinoma and those who have a lower risk of developing invasive cancer and who may therefore need less aggressive treatments. Genomic technologies will also be used to study rare types of breast cancer for better insight and which could potentially lead to novel, effective treatment approaches.

The strength of this project lies in its potential to link basic science findings with clinical practice through molecular pathology, and provide the data so sorely needed to truly personalise treatments for breast cancer patients.

NBCF future view: Medical researchers are only just tapping into the power of what our genes can tell us about disease. Ten years from now, the way breast cancer is treated will have changed significantly based on the genetic information at our fingertips.