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Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer conference presents the latest in research

June 20, 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 of surgery, Women’s College Hospital, and Dr. Marcus Bernardini, head, division of gynecologic oncology, 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 surgery, which can often take place at the same time as a mastectomy.

Dr. Joanne Kotsopoulos, PhD, 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, PhD, 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.

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