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In Australia, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer by age 85; and tragically, we will lose 2,500 people to the disease each year.
There is a great deal we still don’t know about breast cancer, but that may not be the case for long.
Here at QIMR Berghofer, Dr Stacey Edwards and her team are close to some real breakthroughs for breast cancer patients.
The team is taking the findings of a worldwide study and working on transforming them into practical tools for our health practitioners – identifying new ways to recognise those most at risk and developing more effective, targeted treatments.
It is remarkable work, and we’re truly excited to be leading it.
By comparing the DNA of 50,000 women with breast cancer and 50,000 without, the study found 120 common genetic differences exist. Each of these common genetic differences, or ‘DNA typos’, could provide the key to understanding breast cancer meaning better detection, treatment and even prevention.
As Stacey explains: “While family history is still the strongest single predictor of breast cancer, only 5 to 10 per cent of breast cancer patients have a family history. What we’re looking for are specific changes in DNA that increase the risk of developing breast cancer in women without a family history.
“If we can understand what these ‘DNA typos’ do, we will be able to better predict those at high risk of developing breast cancer as well as develop better targeted, more effective treatments.
Stacey's understanding of breast cancer is personal. She tragically lost her own mother to this terrible disease.
“Mum had been in remission for 17 years, and I was off taking a gap year in London when her cancer returned. My parents wanted me to enjoy myself, so they kept Mum’s sad news from me while I was away, but when my Dad called me and told me I had to come home, I did. We had four precious days together.
“Although it’s been almost 20 years since I lost my Mum to breast cancer, I still very much feel her absence—it’s getting me teary even now. Christmas time is always hard. When we get together as a family at Christmas, someone is missing, and my young children, Joshua and Emily, ask ‘where’s your mummy?’ and will never get to know her. “I still miss her every day. Sadly, my story isn’t unique. In fact, there are thousands of Australians who have lost and will lose loved ones to cancer, specifically breast cancer, each year.
Stacey with her children
“When Mum had breast cancer, I really hated the ‘not knowing’. Not knowing why her treatments didn’t work, not knowing why she had it when others didn’t, and not knowing how much time we would have together. If I can answer any of these questions for other families, or if my work could mean that the loss my family experienced could be avoided, it would mean everything to me.
Stacey's team has already examined six of the ’DNA typos’ closely, with great results; but with 114 still to study, they need all the help they can get to ensure this very important research continues.
“I believe we are close to many more important answers. Like all research, ours is dependent on funding, which is why I truly appreciate the support we receive.
Your support is incredibly important to Stacey and to everyone else here at QIMR Berghofer. “As a daughter, as a mother, and as a researcher, what we do today is so important. I hope you will stick with my team and everyone here at QIMR Berghofer as we seek out these answers.
By donating to our Christmas appeal, your support has the potential to change the way life-threatening diseases, such as breast cancer, are detected and treated. It could lead to prevention, or even a cure. It could save lives.