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Funding award to understand why genes increase risk of breast cancer

Dr Elinor Sawyer, based in the Research Oncology Department at King’s College London, has been awarded £190,000 by research charity Breast Cancer Campaign to study why a genetic variation increases a person’s risk of developing a type of breast cancer that is often missed during screening.

With previous funding from Breast Cancer Campaign, Dr Sawyer has already discovered a small variation in the DNA code that is connected to an increased risk of developing lobular breast cancer, but it is not yet known why the variation is linked to increased risk.

The three-year project will see Dr Sawyer study what this genetic variation does, and why it increases the risk for this sub-type of cancer that develops in the milk-producing lobes of the breast.

Dr Sawyer will be looking at the DNA of thousands of women with lobular breast cancer to confirm which genetic variations are most strongly associated with the disease. Using lobular breast cancer cells grown in the lab, Dr Sawyer will investigate how the cancer cells are affected by this variation.

4,742 women in the Greater London area are diagnosed with breast cancer each year on average, and each year 1,088 women on average sadly die from the disease . Lobular breast cancer accounts for up to 15 per cent of all breast cancer cases and is often missed on mammograms. This means this type of breast cancer is often diagnosed at a later stage than other types.

Dr Sawyer says: “Lobular breast cancer is often not picked up by mammograms and the number of cases is rising. The funding I have received from Breast Cancer Campaign will enable me to study the variation we found in the DNA code in more depth and ultimately find out exactly why it increases risk for lobular breast cancer.”

Dr Sawyer’s research could lead to a genetic test which would identify people who are at increased risk of lobular breast cancer – meaning they could receive closer monitoring such as MRI scans. This research could also identify opportunities for new treatments for this sub-type of the disease.

Katherine Woods, Research Communications Manager at Breast Cancer Campaign, says: “We don’t know enough about who is at risk from lobular breast cancer and why. We’re hopeful that Dr Sawyer’s research will help to improve the early diagnosis and chances of survival for people with this type of breast cancer – and bring us one step closer to achieving our goal that by 2025 over 60 per cent of breast cancers will be diagnosed before they are symptomatic.”