The National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) has published the first-ever Towards 2030 Report Card to examine how Australia is tracking towards the organisation’s goal to achieve Zero Deaths from breast cancer by 2030. Informed by 64 of Australia’s leading health and medical researchers, the Report Card highlights the detrimental impact of COVID-19 on clinical research and patient outcomes, with many top breast cancer researchers reporting a year’s worth of lost developments due to the pandemic.
The pandemic has put significant pressure on funding, which was outlined as the number one constraint for breast cancer researchers (93%). For NBCF to play their part in making Zero Deaths from breast cancer by 2030, they will require an investment of at least $100 million over the next nine years.
Early in the pandemic, NBCF introduced the COVID-19 Extension Fund which offered four months’ extension to the research timelines for 38 grants and support for the salaries of 53 researchers, enabling them to see their research through to completion. More than 90% of researchers reported NBCF’s COVID-19 Extension Fund was innovative, supported them when they needed it most, and was appropriately reactive to the circumstances.
All researchers strongly agreed that NBCF provides an essential source of funding for breast cancer research and two-thirds of respondents confirmed their NBCF-funded research has contributed to improved fundamental knowledge and understanding of breast cancer in the last 10 years.
Respondents believe that insufficient funding in the research sector will result in many world-class researchers leaving the industry permanently. Encouragingly, 88% of researchers agreed NBCF had played an important role in supporting their career to date.
Since NBCF’s inception in 1994, it has invested $183 million into 572 game-changing research projects. These projects have contributed to the 15% increase in the five-year breast cancer survival rate over the last 27 years, thanks to improvements in prevention, detection, and treatment. This equates to nearly 47,000 lives saved thanks to funding from the generous Australian community.
The Report Card also delves into how NBCF is addressing the challenges and opportunities to reach Zero Deaths by 2030 and reports on its impact through funding research on breast cancer outcomes.
New technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI), liquid biopsies, breast cancer vaccines and personalised mammography are currently being investigated but limited funding is decelerating progress and the COVID-19 pandemic has, in some ways, slowed the advancement of some of these new approaches.
NBCF continues to identify, fund and champion world-class research that will help detect tumours earlier, improve treatment outcomes, and ultimately – save lives. In fact, 8 in 10 of the researchers surveyed gave ratings of outstanding for the contribution of Australian breast cancer research towards Zero Deaths compared to the international effort.
In the research area of detection, NBCF-funded researcher Professor Nehmat Houssami, who led a landmark Australian pilot trial of 3D mammography (known as tomosynthesis) said: “The NBCF-funded research showed higher breast cancer detection rates than the standard 2D mammography which demonstrates new technology has the potential to be more accurate, to improve detection rates and ultimately increase survival outcomes for Australians diagnosed with breast cancer.”
In addition to available research grants, through unique fellowships and their Endowed Chair 10-year funding programs, NBCF is helping researchers to overcome roadblocks such as lack of funding and unstable career pathways, leading to improvements in breast cancer technology and treatments to save lives.
This year alone, it is estimated that 20,000 Australians will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Without adequate funding, almost 30,000 lives could be lost to breast cancer by 2030.
Professor Sarah Hosking, CEO at the National Breast Cancer Foundation, said “The launch of NBCF’s first Towards 2030 Report Card provides first-hand feedback from Australian researchers on the positive impact of our funding investments, which rely solely on donations from the public. We know with the continued support of our community we can move to a world where Australians expect to live well beyond their diagnosis of breast cancer. We will continue to work collaboratively and to realise the importance of essential research to reach our mission of Zero Death from breast cancer by 2030.”
The five-year survival rate for breast cancer has increased from 76% to 91% since NBCF’s inception in 1994. With continued support and funding from the Australian community, NBCF can overcome roadblocks leading to new, innovative technologies to reach NBCF’s ambitious goal.