Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Highlighting the significant contribution of Research Nurses to breast cancer research

An interview with Justine Kane, Senior Research Nurse at the Precision Breast Cancer Institute about her research.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, observed throughout October, serves as a poignant reminder of the global battle against one of the most prevalent diseases that affect women and, in rarer cases, men. This annual campaign brings together individuals, organisations, and healthcare professionals to raise awareness about breast cancer, advocate for early detection, and support those affected by this insidious condition. While the significance of this month cannot be overstated, it is equally important to acknowledge the invaluable role played by research nurses in advancing the understanding and treatment of breast cancer.

Research nurses, often working tirelessly behind the scenes, are the unsung heroes of breast cancer research. Their contributions are not just commendable; they are vital to the progress made in our fight against this disease.

In this article, we will shed light on the remarkable work these dedicated healthcare professionals do, the impact they have on breast cancer research, and how their efforts directly contribute to the overarching goal of Breast Cancer Awareness Month: raising awareness, saving lives, and supporting patients and their families.

Justine Kane ia a Senior Research Nurse in our Precision Breast Virtual Institute.

Can you tell us about your background and experience as a senior research nurse in the field of breast cancer research?

I qualified in 2010 and started work on an oncology ward at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. This was a diverse role, allowed me to care for a wide range of patients and develop as a newly qualified nurse. Following this, I moved to the Cancer Assessment Unit, dealing with patients who require urgent intervention, due to complications arising from their treatment or disease.

I then moved to a translational research nurse role for the University of Cambridge, working on studies that look at the link between genes, health, and disease. In 2016 a position became available in the Cambridge Breast Cancer Research Unit (now the Precision Breast Cancer Institute) to work on a new study called the Personalised Breast Cancer Programme (PBCP). The PBCP uses whole genome sequencing to assess the feasibility of using genomic information in the management of patients with breast cancer. I have now been in post for just over seven years, and still find it a privilege to be able to offer this sort of research to patients.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a significant event. How do you believe personalised medicine is changing the landscape of breast cancer treatment and awareness?

Evidence based research is so important in changing the landscape for current and future patients. Identifying people with inherited changes means that they can be more closely monitored, and preventative measures taken. Patients are very open to the idea of personalised medicine, for both their own benefit, and the potential benefits it offers to patients in the future. It is fascinating to think what sort of testing may become standard in the future.

Could you explain what personalised breast cancer medicine is and how it differs from traditional approaches to treatment?

Traditional breast cancer treatment is initially based on the type, size and spread of a person’s cancer. Personalised medicine focusses on identifying genetic changes that can potentially be targeted, and results in a more precise treatment for an individual. PCBP offers real-time genetic results to patients that can affect their breast cancer treatment, and potentially impact on our knowledge of the inherited risk to other family members.

Personalised medicine can give healthcare professionals and patients with more knowledge about their condition. There is still a long way to go with personalised medicine, but the benefits of it are being experienced by patients already.

What advice would you give to women who are concerned about their breast cancer risk and are interested in exploring personalised medicine options?

For some people, particularly those who have a strong family history, they may be very concerned about their breast cancer risk. Understanding more about your own individual risk can help you to feel more in control.

Speaking with your GP is normally the first step, and they may refer you to a genetics service. It’s important to remember that even if a specific gene is found it doesn’t mean that you will definitely get cancer. Undertaking genetic testing is a personal decision, but it is important to think through the implications for the wider family if an inherited gene is found. A genetic counsellor will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of genetic testing with you.

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month emphasises the importance of early detection, how does personalised medicine play a role in early diagnosis and intervention?

The NHS breast screening programme plays a huge role in early detection of breast cancer. Every three years, between the ages of 50 and 71, anyone registered with a GP as female will receive an invitation to take part in screening. If you are over 71 you can contact your local breast screening service to request an appointment. 

Some people are at higher risk than the average population of developing breast cancer, and increased screening may be required. For some people this will also involve testing to look for specific genetic mutations, such as TP53, BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. This level of personalisation plays an important role in early detection. 

For those who may want to get involved or support breast cancer research and personalised medicine, what are some avenues or organisations they can explore?

The Precision Breast Cancer Institute (PBCI) is part of the University of Cambridge Department of Oncology and the CRUK Cambridge Centre. We are hosting an event with the PBCI Patient Advisory Group on Thursday 2November for participants of clinical research and interested members of the public to hear updates on Cambridge-led breast cancer clinical research, and to find out about how samples and data collected through research are used.

We will also be premiering a short film featuring research participants on their experience of living with breast cancer.

Registration is required so please sign up using the link below, or call 07761 042 108 to book.  

Breast Cancer Research Demystified Tickets, Thu 2 Nov 2023 at 18:30 | Eventbrite

Cherry May Sanchez
16 Oct 2023