New mission to stop breast cancer deaths

Understanding why some women are more at risk of dying from breast cancer than others is the focus of a major research project launched by the National Breast Cancer Foundation.


While breast cancer has one of the highest survival rates at 90 per cent, there are hundreds of women who still die within five years of being diagnosed with the disease.

Eight women in Australia die of breast cancer every day, statistics show.

Researchers at the Centre for Population Health Research at the University of South Australia will pull together all the data from hospitals, radiotherapy centres and tissue banks to help answer the question: Why are 10 per cent of women still not surviving beyond five years?

“What’s different about them and what can we do about it?” said Professor Ian Olver, a chief investigator on the project.

“If we can link all the data together, we can find out more about what puts people at greater risk of not doing well.”

The research, announced on Wednesday at the launch of the Pink Ribbon Breakfast fundraising campaign, will start in SA and then broaden nationally.

Some of the questions to be asked will examine survival outcomes for women living in rural towns and younger women.

Prof Olver says he’s “absolutely confident” of producing new data that will lead to tailored treatments and, ultimately, improved survival.

“What you do is look at the population to get your clues and then you can design very specific studies that will be able to translate into individual treatments, so you use the big data set and then you can design the studies then that are very specific to get answers for individual patients,” Prof Olver told AAP.

NBCF CEO Professor Sarah Hosking says they will use the information to identify any gaps in care and what changes the health system needs to do to fill them.

“Over the past 20 years, research has come so far in reducing deaths from breast cancer, but until we reach zero deaths we believe the job’s not done,” she said.

“NBCF will use this information to make data-driven decisions in setting research priorities that are focused on closing the gap on the last 10 per cent of breast cancer deaths and making it a better tomorrow for those affected.”

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Pink Ribbon Breakfast campaign held in October for International Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Funds raised this year will go towards research on the repurposing of an available drug to better treat metastatic breast cancer.