Groundbreaking treatment could prevent breast cancer without requiring mastectomy

An Otago University researcher has been awarded funding to develop a groundbreaking treatment to prevent breast cancer.

It could provide a simpler alternative to the surgical prevention - mastectomy.

In the lab, scientists are testing DNA for breast cancer-causing high-risk gene mutations. It's these gene variations that need to be stopped in their tracks. And researchers hope that soon it can be done without going under the knife.

"It would be really disappointing if in 10, 20, 30 years if the most effective option for lowering your risk of breast cancer is surgery," says Dr Vanessa Lattimore, research fellow at the MacKenzie Cancer Research Group at the University of Otago, Christchurch.

For people who carry a gene variant their best shot at avoiding breast cancer is a double mastectomy.

But Dr Lattimore is hoping to develop an alternative therapy.

"You could have an injection instead of surgery which could lower your risk down to that of the general population, so just as effective if not more effective than the current options," she says.

The two-year research project is one of three to receive a $250,000 boost from the Health Research Council, Breast Cancer Cure and Breast Cancer Foundation.

"New Zealand has won the respect of the world in COVID, I'd like to think we can do the same in breast cancer research," NZ Breast Cancer Foundation research manager Adèle Gautier says.

The alternative technique has previously been used successfully for other diseases including spinal muscular atrophy.

It's welcome news for 32-year-old breast cancer survivor Maree van Royan.

"My mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer twice and her mother and grandmother had passed away with breast cancer when she was a child," she says.

Van Royan's family history means if she has kids they'll be at risk, too.

"The surgery, if there's a way to avoid that, I'm all for it," van Royan says.

The prospect of an alternative therapy eases that anxiety, for both herself and future generations.