SOURCE: Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation

June 30, 2014 14:39 ET

28-Year-Old Breast Cancer Survivor's Experiences Help Guide a National Research Program

TORONTO, ON--(Marketwired - June 30, 2014) -  Two years ago, Alicia Tait sat in a meeting room at a Breast Cancer in Young Women Workshop telling a group of funders and researchers what it's like to be 23 and diagnosed with breast cancer. She hoped they'd have a better understanding of what women like her experience. Participating in the recent announcement of a $5.7 million research program to help women like her, was a new experience.

Alicia says that her diagnosis was a shock and sent her mind spinning. "I had a four-month-old daughter," she says. "It raised the question of if I'd even be around to raise my daughter. Would I be able to graduate university, start a career in teaching, and grow old with my husband? Would I be able to grow old at all?"

The 28-year-old mother of a 4-year-old girl and 2-year-old boy has since graduated university with two degrees, completed teacher's college, and is now an occasional teacher for the Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board. "A cancer diagnosis at such a young age raises many questions about the future," she says. "It's hard to picture a future where you're not always at the doctor's office with endless concerns and tests.

"You lose your hair and try to feel beautiful among your peers and watch them have a life that's healthy and carefree," says Tait of Mississauga, Ont. "You worry whether you'll be able to conceive another child. These are unique challenges when you're this young."

It's estimated that 24,400 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. About 4% of new cases diagnosed will be in women under the age of 40. Breast cancer in younger women tends to be more advanced at the time of diagnosis as well as more aggressive and resistant to treatment. As a result, prognosis is generally worse for the under 40 group than it is for older women.

"I'm so glad that this subject is important to the medical research community with time and financial support set aside to make a difference," says Tait. "This is an area that's obviously very important to me; I'm just really pleased to have played a small part in making this happen."

That workshop Alicia attended was organized by The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) - Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF). It was designed to determine the best strategies the country should undertake to address existing research questions for breast cancer in women under 40 years of age.

Following the workshop, CIHR-ICR and CBCF took the input from the participants, including patients, and developed a national competition for Canadian researchers to propose a pan-Canadian program spanning multiple disciplines to support a holistic, "whole woman" approach. The program was to include a number of independently fundable, synergistic sub-projects. By creating the opportunity for researchers from different disciplines and from across Canada to work together, the competition was designed to allow researchers to make a difference sooner. The $5.7 million investment in the program represents the largest ever granted in Canada to study breast cancer focused on women40 and under.

The program that won the competition, led by Dr. Steven Narod, Senior Scientist and Director, Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit at Toronto's Women's College Research Institute and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Breast Cancer, is entitled "Towards better outcomes for young women with breast cancer: A Pan-Canadian Collaborative." It includes four sub-projects involving 62 researchers and clinicians at 44 institutions and clinics across Canada.

This national network of researchers will establish a Canadian Young Breast Cancer Cohort comprised of 1,200 newly-diagnosed young women with all stages of breast cancer from 28 sites across Canada. The researchers will collect personal, lifestyle, and treatment information about the women, as well as blood and tumour samples to address existing research questions. The team will also assemble a retrospective database of 3,000 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer when they were under 40 in order to assess longer term outcomes related to recurrence and survival.

"Despite the fact that breast cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths in women 20 to 40 years of age, little research has been done specifically on breast cancer in younger women," says Dr. Stephen Robbins, Scientific Director of Canadian Institutes of Health Research - Institute of Cancer Research. "And early onset sporadic breast cancer is poorly understood."

"We believe this investment will make a meaningful difference in addressing the unique challenges that young women with breast cancer face," says Sandra Palmaro, Co-CEO, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. "With a research investment of this size and scope, being led by some of the brightest research minds across the country, our hope is that young women, like Alicia, who are diagnosed with breast cancer will have improved outcomes and a better quality of life."

About the CIHR

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada's health research investment agency. CIHR's mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to enable its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened health care system for Canadians. Composed of 13 Institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to more than 12,600 health researchers and trainees across Canada. www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca

About CBCF

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF) is the leading community-driven organization in Canada dedicated to creating a future without breast cancer. Its investments in innovative and relevant research and education have led to progress in breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care. Since 1986, CBCF has been at the forefront of a nationwide movement supporting and advocating for the breast cancer community. For more information, visit www.cbcf.org.

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Contact Information

  • To arrange an interview with Alicia Tait, Dr. Steven Narod, Dr. Stephen Robbins, or Sandra Palmaro, please contact

    Kadi Kaljuste 
    Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation 
    416 815 1313, ext. 273 
    kkaljuste@cbcf.org

    David Coulombe 
    Media Relations 
    Canadian Institutes of Health Research
    613-946-0927
    mediarelations@cihr-irsc.gc.ca