Read the latest news from the Breast Cancer Research Trust.

Breast Cancer Research Trust’s triple celebration

The Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust is celebrating a hat-trick of milestones. The Trust marks its 21st birthday with a gala celebration next month, is about to have a name change, and welcomes its inaugural patron.

The Trust will host a 1920s-inspired soiree at the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts on August 19. The celebration comes as the Waikato BCR Trust looks set to become the Breast Cancer Research Trust.

“We are incredibly proud that the Trust began right here in the Waikato and it’s where we are still proudly headquartered,” Trust founder and chair Professor Ian Campbell said.

“We’ve decided to remove Waikato from our name, however, because the reality is that we conduct research that benefits women nationwide and, in fact, globally. We wanted to ensure that the name of the Trust reflects the work we do to improve lives for women all over New Zealand and the world.”

And the Trust welcomes its inaugural patron – Lady Tureiti Moxon, Managing Director of Te Kōhao Health.

“Lady Tureiti is a breast cancer survivor, and an innovative and passionate leader in primary care health,” Trust founder and chair Professor Ian Campbell said.

“Lady Tureiti has a vision for reducing breast cancer inequities and establishing a te ao Māori screening hub in Enderley for the early detection of the common cancers including breast cancer.

“The (Waikato) Breast Cancer Research Trust is incredibly privileged to have Lady Tureiti as our patron and, together with the Breast Screen Midland team, we are looking forward to working in partnership with Te Kōhao Health to improve breast cancer outcomes for wāhine.”

Lady Tureiti’s acceptance of the role was marked with a whakatau and visit to Waikato Hospital’s Breast Care Centre, together with a delegation of colleagues and board members. 

Professor Campbell presented research from the Waikato and Auckland Breast Cancer Registers on outcomes for New Zealand women with breast cancer. The Trust runs the Waikato Register, which is now part of the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation National Register.

The studies have shown that Māori wāhine are twice as likely to die from breast cancer compared to women of European background, and that Pasifika women are 2.6 times more likely to have a bad outcome. The difference in outcomes is entirely found amongst women presenting with a symptomatic breast cancer. Māori and Pasifika women diagnosed through the screening program do just as well as any other groups with 10-year survival rates of over 92 per cent.

The 10-year survival rates for women presenting outside the screening program, and with symptoms, were 67 per cent for Māori, and 63 per cent for Pasifika. 

“This research highlights the need to promote breast cancer screening, and breast cancer awareness in our Māori and Pasifika women, where benefits from screening and earlier presentation will have a significantly greater effect than for our whole population,” Professor Campbell said.

Lady Tureiti said that, as a survivor of breast cancer herself, she’s excited to be the patron of the Trust.

“Māori women have one of the highest incidences of breast cancer in the world. As the old adage goes prevention is better than cure so if we are going to reverse this trend we need to be at the forefront of screening and early detection.”

Lady Tureiti has been at the forefront of the health sector for more than 35 years. She was a claimant in Waitangi Tribunal Hauora claims that recommended that a Māori Heath Authority be established – the catalyst that has led to the health reforms currently being undertaken.   

Tickets to the Trust’s 21st birthday cocktail function are $150 per person or $1500 for a table of 10. The evening will include gourmet canapes, entertainment, delicious cocktails and a charity auction. To purchase tickets visit the Trust website, www.brightasabutton.co.nz.

ANOTHER BREAKTHROUGH FOR RESEARCHERS IN BREAST CANCER TREATMENT – MONARCHE TRIAL INTERIM ANALYSIS

A recent interim analysis of the international “monarchE” trial has shown a significant decrease in the risk of breast cancer recurrence or death for those taking the drug Abemaciclib in combination with standard endocrine therapy, compared to standard adjuvant endocrine therapy alone.

The Waikato has been a centre for the monarchE trial since 2018. This clinical trial is investigating whether the oral drug Abemaciclib can improve the outcomes in women or men with high-risk hormone receptor-positive (HR+) and human epidermal receptor 2 negative (HER2-) early breast cancer. Abemaciclib stops the production of proteins in the body called CDK4 and CDK6, which are responsible for promoting cell growth. It has been shown to have antitumor activity and significantly reduce tumour growth, including breast cancer. Abemacicilib is taken twice daily in tablet form over a two year period.

90 percent of all breast cancer is diagnosed at an early stage and 70 percent of all breast cancers are HR+, HER2-, the most common subtype. Despite the progress in the treatment of breast cancer, approximately 30 percent of people diagnosed with HR+, HER2- early breast cancer are at risk of their cancer returning, potentially to incurable metastatic disease (spread of cancer to other parts of the body). This risk of recurrence increases based on certain  features such as breast cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes in the armpit, a larger tumour and a high grade (more aggressive) tumour .

“There has been a great need to improve endocrine therapy for breast cancer patients who are at high risk of disease recurrence.  The monarcE trial was specifically designed for patients with breast cancer at high risk for returning. Through the monarchE trial 5,637 people around the world have taken part in this research which has demonstrated positive results,” shares Waikato monarchE trial coordinator and research nurse Jenni Scarlet.  “If we can prevent women and men diagnosed with high-risk early-stage breast cancer from developing metastatic or incurable breast cancer then this would mean many lives saved”. The monarchE trial is headed in the Waikato by Medical Oncologist and WBCRT Trustee Dr Marion Kuper-Hommel.

In the Waikato, the Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust has enabled six patients the opportunity to participate in the monarchE trial. The trial will now continue through to the completion date, estimated for June 2027. All participants will be followed to assess overall survival and other outcomes.

Giving comfort, warmth and dignity to cancer treatments

A Tauranga-based clothing business has established a relationship with the Trust with the aim of providing funding to the Trust through a portion of sales of its recently-development garments for patients undergoing cancer treatment.

The Business Tailor has developed a range of garments under the Can Do name to give cancer patients (and others undergoing infusion treatments) something practical and comfortable to wear that allows treatment access without having to remove clothing, as well as being warm, easy-wash and stylish.

Managing Director, Graeme Dick says “We manufacture our garments in Tauranga, using top-quality merino wool and cotton.

Most of our garments are merino, with cotton knitted on the inside to reduce the likelihood of wool allergy amongst patients. There are also 100% cotton garments available, which better suit warmer climates.

All garments have IV and PICC access on both sleeves, and we manufacture garments that separately offer access for Portacath, breast and upper-body treatments.”

“A close friend who underwent treatment was the catalyst for us developing this range. He was one of several patients to trial the clothing to guide us with improvements to the design and final product”.

The Business Tailor aims to support the Trust through its Can Do range and Professor Ian Campbell, Chairman of the Trust endorses this initiative:

“These garments fill a big gap in practical, comfortable, and stylish provision of care for cancer patients. Graeme has put in the time and effort to make sure they fulfil each of these. Well done Graeme!”

Production of the garments is imminent, with the New Zealand market being the first priority. Export markets are currently being developed.

Graeme says “Most people in our country have had some form of contact with cancer. We often feel frustrated with not being able to help friends and loved ones during their journey. We are committed to doing what we can to make patient’s lives more comfortable with dignity while undergoing treatment, so that in some small way, we can help while at the same time, supporting the Trust”.

For more information about the Can Do range, contact Graeme on 027 226 1732 or buy@thebusinesstailor.co.nz

Research over the past 20 years continues to answer questions about reducing treatment to the axilla

The status of the axillary or armpit lymph nodes remains the most important indicator of outcome for women diagnosed with breast cancer, and helps predict the need for further treatment (e.g. chemo or radiotherapy). Traditionally, axillary node status has been determined by the removal of all of the nodes (called axillary clearance or axillary node dissection).  This operation may lead to arm swelling (lymphoedema), pain, some abnormal skin sensation, and shoulder stiffness.  Over the past 20 years the WBCRT has enabled the introduction of a reduced surgery to the armpit called “sentinel node biopsy”. Sentinel node biopsy involves surgical removal of the lymph nodes most closely related to the breast cancer (usually 2-3 lymph nodes).

Since 2001, Waikato Breast Surgeons and researchers have participated in a learning phase of sentinel node biopsy, followed by four international clinical trials introducing sentinel node biopsy surgery for different types of breast cancer.

The sentinel node biopsy trials have been part of the journey of reducing the amount of breast cancer surgery. In the 1970s it was believed that all women with breast cancer needed a mastectomy, and nowadays most women don’t need a mastectomy, and breast-conserving surgery is performed in a majority of cases. Prior to the early 2000s, all women underwent axillary clearance.

The most recent sentinel node trial is the “ POsitive Sentinel NOde: adjuvant therapy alone versus adjuvant therapy plus Clearance or axillary radiotherapy” or “POSNOC” trial. This is a UK led international trial, which is coordinated in Australia and New Zealand by Breast Cancer Trials ANZ.

At the moment, it is usual for women with a small amount of cancer spread to 1 or 2 sentinel lymph nodes to have further treatment (axillary clearance or axillary radiotherapy). The POSNOC clinical trial is investigating whether some of these women may be able to avoid treatment to the armpit, and, as a result, avoid the side effects of this treatment as well as how this treatment affects a woman’s quality of life.

It is currently believed that women with more than a tiny amount of cancer in the sentinel node need to have the other lymph nodes removed (axillary clearance). This may or may not be true, and this is the question that the POSNOC clinical trial will answer. Very often there is no cancer seen in the other armpit lymph nodes when removed. So those women get the short and long term side effects of the axillary treatment for no benefit.

We now know that additional therapies (e.g. hormonal therapy and chemotherapy) are very good at preventing the cancer from coming back, so additional treatment to the axilla (armpit) may no longer be needed. Previous research suggests that axillary treatment may not change the risk of the cancer coming back in the armpit or anywhere else. However, more research is needed to give a clear answer.

If we can prove that less axillary treatment is just as safe as doing more treatment, this will be a great outcome for women diagnosed in the future.

Recruitment for this UK led trial is planned to complete in mid-2021. We acknowledge the Waikato and other NZ women who have had the courage to participate in this trial.

Good news for postmenopausal women with a high risk of breast cancer

As an oncology nurse Lorrie Kurth has seen the effects of breast cancer first-hand.

Lorrie has a high risk of breast cancer. She has lost her grandmother, her mother and a cousin to the disease, another cousin has had breast cancer and so has an aunt.

Ten years ago, Lorrie joined the anastrozole medical prevention trial to help researchers find a way to prevent the disease.

“It’s was such a good opportunity to help other generations of my family and other families”.

At the time of enrolling in the trial, Lorrie knew that it could take 10 years for the trial to determine whether the drug would help prevent breast cancer.

Ten years have now passed and the long-term results of using anastrozole for breast cancer prevention were published recently and its good news for wāhine like Lorrie that are at high risk of breast cancer and ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).

The results show that anastrozole maintains a preventative effect for postmenopausal women at high risk of breast cancer for at least 12 years.

Anastrozole inhibits the production of oestrogen in postmenopausal women and has been used for several years now in the treatment of postmenopausal women with oestrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.

The use of anastrozole, which is part of a class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors, is more effective than tamoxifen in women who have already had breast cancer.

This research shows that anastrozole is a safe drug in the long-term and provides women with greater options when it comes to managing their risk. Other options include regular breast screening, preventative surgery and a healthy lifestyle.  

Lorrie has not been diagnosed with breast cancer, she is in good health and has never dwelled on her higher chances of getting the disease. “It’s not something I spend a lot of time thinking about. I work on the theory that if it happens, I’ll deal with it then. “I have had excellent surveillance throughout the trial, particularly with my family history, and this has been very comforting.”

Lorrie is philosophical about cancer and death because of her years of working as an oncology nurse. “I’ve learned from looking after people with cancer that you have to live every day and make the most of that day.”

Glasses sales support breast cancer research

The Specsavers Community Program is where Specsavers stores across the country donate a portion of every glasses sale to both a local charity of the store’s choice and to The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, which is working to eradicate avoidable blindness in the Pacific.

Since 2014 the Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust have been the local charity supported by the Chartwell and Hamilton CBD Specsavers stores. To date these stores have raised $10,000!

This is an incredible effort from our local community and we are very grateful that Chartwell Specsavers and Hamilton CBD Specsavers have chosen us as their charity to support. 

Their regular donation each quarter has contributed to the introduction of new treatments to improve outcomes and reduce side effects for Waikato and NZ wāhine diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Thank you Specsavers.

Congratulations to Professor Ian Campbell

We are absolutly delighted to share the news that founder and chair of the Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust, Ian Campbell has recently been promoted to Honorary Professor with the University of Auckland, School of Medicine.

Professor Ian Campbell, Breast and General Surgeon, has been a tireless contributor to teaching within the medical trainee programme at Waikato Hospital as well as supervision of surgical trainees completing post graduate research, with many research publications arising from his work with the Trust, associated clinical trials and the Waikato Breast Cancer Register.

Ian was recognised for his services to breast cancer treatment and research with Officer of the NZ Order of Merit in 2013 and this promotion is richly deserved.

Congratulations Professor Ian Campbell.

Chair Breast Cancer Surgeon Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust

Clinical Scholar Award Winner, Dr Mel Edwards

We are extremely proud of Dr Mel Edwards, Doctoral Research Fellow & Surgical Trainee, who has won a scholarship to attend this years San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium and present her PhD thesis, ‘The Impact of Breast Cancer Treatment Concordance on Survival in Relation to Comorbidity Burden’.

This international scientific symposium is for interaction and exchange among basic scientists and clinicians specialising in breast cancer. It is held each December in San Antonio, Texas and is the largest international breast cancer conference. Trustees, Drs Ian Campbell and Marion Kuper-Hommel are also attending the symposium this year.

Doctoral Research Fellow Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust

Dr Edwards is only one of five global award recipients of the ‘Clinical Scholar Award’, which recognises clinical scientists in-training who are actively pursuing clinical or clinical / translational research in breast cancer.

Congratulations Mel!

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