Each year, a component of U of T’s Spring Reunion is the Stress Free Degree lecture series – a free event open to all attendees. It is a chance to showcase the University’s excellent intellectual capital, while providing alumni the opportunity to attend a “lecture” without the stresses of being back in the classroom.
This year, Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing associate professor Dr. Kelly Metcalfe was asked to speak to returning alumni. Her lecture titled “Women at high risk for breast cancer: What are the options for prevention?” discussed how women with a genetic predisposition to developing breast cancer have a very high lifetime risk of developing the disease. Metcalfe offered a glimpse into her groundbreaking work on the prevention of cancer, with a focus on the pros and cons of each option.
Metcalfe explained breast cancer is the most common cancer in women with a lifetime probability of one in nine (11 per cent); however, women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation have an 80 per cent risk of developing breast cancer during their lifetime. These genetic mutations are most common in women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent with a rate of one in 45 versus one in 250 among the general Caucasian population.
Genetic testing for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes is offered by the Ontario government for women that meet strict criteria based on family and personal history of cancer. Once a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation is detected, women have many decisions to make about cancer prevention. Decision aids developed by Metcalfe and her research team help people make specific and deliberative choices about breast cancer prevention. The options include: prophylactic oophorectomy (preventive removal of the ovaries), prophylactic mastectomy (preventive removal of the breasts), tamoxifen and investigative drugs.
Those who attended Metcalfe’s lecture were attentive and engaged in discussion throughout, raising interesting questions and comments.