Women's College Research Institute

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Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer conference presents the latest in research

September 2016

Women’s College Hospital scientists pre­sented the latest breast and ovarian can­cer research to a full auditorium on May 27 at the Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit’s biennial conference.

Many of the women who attended are at a high risk of breast and ovarian cancer because of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. They included research study participants and patients. Women with a BRCA muta­tion have a 25 to 65 per cent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. About 15 to 65 per cent develop ovarian cancer. Male mutation carriers also face higher risks of breast and prostate cancer.

Surgical options are the most effec­tive way to prevent cancer in high-risk women, said Dr. John Semple, chief sur­geon at Women’s College Hospital, and Dr. Marcus Bernardini from the University Health Network. Breast and ovary removal — mastectomy and oophorectomy — can prevent cancer before it starts. Dr. Semple showed the latest methods for breast re­construction, which can often take place at the same time as a mastectomy.

Dr. Joanne Kotsopoulos offered advice for a role of hormonal and lifestyle factors at different stages of life, including childbirth and menopause.

For women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, treatment can look dif­ferent depending on their genetics. Dr. Steven Narod, the director of the Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit, presented best practices for managing breast cancer in women with BRCA mutations.

Dr. Kelly Metcalfe described her study on rapid genetic testing for women at the time of breast cancer diagnosis. She found that if women learn they have a BRCA mutation at the time of breast cancer diagnosis they are more likely to choose a double mastectomy which has been shown to reduce their risk of dying by 50 per cent. Scientist Dr. Moham­mad Akbari discussed his plan to develop a universal population-based genetic screening program for BRCA1/2 genes so that all carriers who are at high risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer can be identified and benefit from existing cancer preventive measures.

Dr. Narod said the hereditary cancer team has many ongoing research projects, and they will continue pursuing answers to the most pressing questions about heredi­tary cancer. “It’s a lifetime commitment,” he said.

Dr. Paula Rochon, vice-president of re­search at Women’s College Hospital, said it’s essential for women to have access to the latest information. “As scientists learn more about the role of genetics in cancer risk, it becomes more and more impor­tant for that evidence to reach patients. Conferences like this one help spread the word about treatment and prevention options.”

The event concluded with a reception to celebrate Dr. Narod’s 20th anniversary as a scientist at Women’s College Hospital.

Kelly Metcalfe
Kelly Metcalfe, RN, PhD, presents on rapid genetic testing for women at the time of breast cancer diagnosis.


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