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Research making a difference in breast cancer

15 October 2015

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, presenting an annual opportunity to increase awareness of this disease. It also offers the opportunity to celebrate the progress we’ve made in improving the prevention and treatment of breast cancer and the quality of life of those living with and beyond this disease. While we’ve come a long way, there is still much more to do.

Our world-class researchers have helped make strides toward these goals. As always, we are thankful for the generosity of our donors, who make this important research possible.

Learn more about how our researchers are making a difference in these inspiring stories.

Aisha Lofters

Dr Aisha Lofters, University of Toronto

Understanding the impact of disability on access to breast cancer screening

Cancer screening programs are an effective way to detect cancers early but only for those people who participate in them. Dr Aisha Lofters and her team have been researching the factors that contribute to low participation in breast cancer screening. Linking Canadian Community Health Survey data with mammography screening data, they were able to identify the screening patterns of over 10,000 women, about 4,600 of whom reported a disability. They found that women with severe disabilities were less likely to be screened than women with moderate or no disabilities. These findings identify women with severe disabilities as a group that could particularly benefit from supportive programs to help them access screening for cancers.

Sam Aparicio

Dr Samuel Aparicio, BC Cancer Agency

Computer modelling to predict changes in breast tumour cells

Understanding how cells behave within a tumour is complicated by cellular changes that occur as a tumour progresses. Published in the prestigious journal Nature, Dr Samuel Aparicio and Dr Sohrab Shah combined the identification of gene mutations in individual breast cancer cells with computer modelling, to predict how different cell populations within the same tumour evolve and grow over time. As certain cell populations are more resistant to treatment with drugs, understanding and predicting how they evolve in complex cancers may provide new targeted therapy options. photo credit: BC Cancer Foundation

Linda Carlson

Dr Linda Carlson, University of Calgary

The genetic effects of stress in breast cancer survivors

Emerging research has suggested that high levels of stress may have negative effects at the genetic level, such as shortening the ends of chromosomes – called telomeres – that help protect against diseases like cancer. Dr Linda Carlson and her team undertook the first study to test whether stress reduction techniques had a positive effect on the telomeres of breast cancer survivors. Women using stress reduction therapies were able to maintain their telomere length over a 3-month period, while women using no therapies had shortened telomeres. These findings, which received considerable media attention, suggest that stress reduction therapies may impact important biological events in the body. This study was supported through the former Canadian Breast Cancer Research Alliance.

Our progress in breast cancer will continue, with over $5 million in funding committed by the Canadian Cancer Society to breast cancer research in 2015.