Understanding breast cancer in young women

16 May 2023

University of Queensland researchers will investigate the genetic causes of breast cancer in young women with new funding from The National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Associate Professor Peter Simpson, from the UQ Centre for Clinical Research, said his team will build on a previous study that analysed cancer genomes in women with a family history of breast cancer.

“In that study, we compared each patient’s cancer genome sequence with their normal DNA to try to understand what drives the disease,” Associate Professor Simpson said.

“We found striking structural changes in the cancer DNA of a group of women diagnosed at a young age.

“Their DNA appeared severely damaged and had rearranged itself into a peculiar sequence.

“We think this could be something that causes breast cancer to develop faster, and led them to be diagnosed earlier than other patients.”

In Australia, breast cancer rates are rising with three women aged under 40 diagnosed with the disease each day and another dying each week. It is the most common cancer in women aged 20-39 years.

Associate Professor Simpson said breast cancer in young patients was sometimes linked to the inheritance of a ‘faulty’ high-risk gene, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2.

“Currently, around 12 genes, including the BRCA1 and 2 genes, can be tested for breast cancer risk.

“However, most young breast cancer patients have no family history of the disease and the genetic cause is unknown.”

“This funding will help our research team gain new insight into the causes of the disease and potentially lead to new therapies that can target and treat breast cancer.”