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New clinic predicts high-risk familial breast cancer and provides intervention before cancer develops

18 December 2019

A new Preventative High-Risk Familial Breast Cancer Clinic has launched at Princess Alexandra Hospital to advance the benefits of world-leading research so that patients with a high risk of cancer receive predictive analysis and early intervention.

The clinic, which forms part of Metro South Health’s new Breast Cancer Institute, harnesses the research of Translational Research Institutes, Professor Carolyn Mountford in the area of MR spectroscopy to predate and predict the onset of cancer for those women with familial risk with the BRCA1 gene mutation.

PA Hospital Director of Breast and Endocrine Surgery, Professor Ian Bennett, said the establishment of the clinic is the first-of-its-kind in Queensland and means more comprehensive care for women at risk.

“Across the three hospitals in our region that provide breast surgery, the clinic will ensure everyone gets the same treatment with a more coordinated and uniform approach to prevent cancer from developing,” said Professor Bennett.

The unique part that distinguishes this service from any other breast cancer clinic in Queensland is that it includes a virtual clinic with multidisciplinary planning which pulls together the surgeons, plastic surgeons, oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiology, research and the geneticist from across the three hospitals, in order to coordinate uniform care.

“This means that high-risk familial breast cancer patients are receiving the benefit of the predictive MR spectroscopy without delay, their biochemistry is monitored with equipment that is accessed by researchers as well as clinicians and our team can intervene with surgical solutions when pre-cancerous changes are detected,” he said.

One of the big successes of this model of care is PAH’s partnership with Translational Research Institute’s Professor Carolyn Mountford whose research into MR Spectroscopy has paved the way for identifying those at risk of developing breast cancer.

Professor Carolyn Mountford has found, using spectroscopy, women who have a higher risk of cancer have a much different spectroscopy profile to other women who don’t have a high risk.

“This advancement allows us to monitor the changes to a patient’s biochemistry that may predate and predict the onset of cancer, allowing the potential for early intervention and maybe even the prevention of mastectomy,” he said.

Teacher Tahnee Brown (39) from Kuraby has benefited from the early identification of pre-cancerous changes through the high-risk familial breast cancer clinic after it was identified that she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation.

“My father died from cancer as a direct result of the BRCA1 gene and, for a long time, I was in denial about getting tested,” Tahnee said.

“There was a point that I had to grow up, confront the fact that I needed to be tested and now I am armed with the knowledge that I have the BRCA1 gene mutation.

“My predictive biochemistry had warning signs, so I’ve had a double mastectomy at PAH and the next part of the journey is to look at having my ovaries removed as another prevention.

“I’m really positive about the process because I have the knowledge I need to guide me through this journey and the support of the clinic is reassuring as I have access to so many specialists who are looking out for the warning signs,” she said.

The current research into the field shows the potential for even more improvements in preventative intervention that will benefit patients, not only in Brisbane’s South, but potentially around the world.

“The greatest benefit we can provide to our patients is to prevent them from getting cancer in the first place,” Professor Bennett said.

Last updated 18 December 2019
Last reviewed 18 December 2019

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