Approximately 4% of breast cancers in Canada occur in women less than 40 years old. The known risk-factors for the onset of breast cancer in these women are few, and can only account for a very small proportion of cases. The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF) in partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) – Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) have announced the funding of an interdisciplinary research program that will initiate and build momentum for vital research that will improve clinical outcomes and enhance quality of life for younger women who are diagnosed with breast cancer.
One program was funded from across Canada, and Professor Kelly Metcalfe will be leading one of the four projects within this program. The research program, led by Dr. Steven Narod from the Women’s College Research Institute is a massive undertaking. Truly a Pan-Canada project, it includes a total team of 62 researchers and clinicians at 44 institutions and clinics across Canada, running four separate sub-projects.
Metcalfe’s project will look at the role of genetic testing in prevention and treatment of young-onset breast cancer. “With the identification of cancer causing genetic mutations, we can counsel a patient on her subsequent risks for other cancers, and elect for cancer risk reduction options,” says Metcalfe. “Furthermore, relatives unaffected with cancer could then be tested to determine their cancer risks and be presented with risk reduction options as well.” As part of the larger initiative, Metcalfe’s project will have access to 1200 women with young-onset breast cancer, and be in the unique position to evaluate the contributions of 25 known breast cancer-causing genes in that population. Current genetic testing guidelines can then be assessed to determine if other genes, in addition to BRCA1 and BRCA2 should be considered for use in genetic testing for women with young onset breast cancer.
The $5.7 million in funding for the interdisciplinary project and its four sub-projects is one of the largest amounts ever granted in Canada to the study of breast cancer in young women, and the program is among the largest ever undertaken in this area in Canada. Metcalfe’s project, along with the other sub-projects, will address questions from across the breast cancer spectrum, with implications for prevention, risk reduction, improved detection and diagnosis, treatment, cancer control and post-treatment care.
The program brings together Canada’s best minds in breast cancer research to address gaps not currently served by existing operating grants or other existing funding mechanisms. With CBCF and CIHR-ICR each contributing half of the research funds, this coordinated national project will overcome the limitations of geography and low-prevalence rates to achieve advances not attainable by any individual project component on its own. “We are positioned to make meaningful impacts in all stages of cancer detection, risk reduction, and treatment,” Metcalfe finishes. “The results of this study and ensuing changes in delivery of cancer genetics services could ultimately have a profound influence on cancer-related mortality in women with young-onset breast cancer and their relatives.”