New study aims to help stop younger women dying from breast cancer

A new study hopes to result in fewer younger women dying from breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the biggest cause of cancer-related deaths in women under 45 in New Zealand and scientists here want to help improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Miriam Fuimaono was at the peak of her physical fitness a year ago but breast cancer was hiding underneath it all.

"I was applying deodorant in the mirror one day and I saw a dimple that had never been there before, so that was it," she tells Newshub.

In March, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, aged just 40. Not one lump, but two.

"I think if lightning had hit me that day I probably wouldn't have felt anything because it kind of went numb after that," she says.

Miriam is doing well but women under 45 often have poorer outcomes and tend to have more aggressive types of breast cancer.

The Breast Cancer Foundation has just awarded $600,000 to fund a study by teams at Auckland and Otago universities that hopes to explain why.

"We want to be able to see whether breast cancer in younger women is actually different to older women," says University of Auckland senior research fellow Dr Annette Lasham.

That's important because it could lead to the development of new tests.

"We hope to see whether there are certain features that we should be looking for that may better predict outcomes for breast cancer patients," Dr Lasham says.

As well as molecular testing, the study will include the data of tens of thousands of New Zealand women past and present.

The study is named after broadcaster and advocate Helena McAlpine, who died from breast cancer five years ago. Her husband Chris Barton says she'd be thrilled.

"She wanted to leave a legacy of awesomeness, so this dedication is just a really touching acknowledgement of all the work she did over the years for Breast Cancer Foundation and educating women about breast cancer."

That work continuing after her death to help save others.