Read the latest news from the Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust.

Good news for postmenopausal women with a high risk of breast cancer

As an oncology nurse Lorrie Kurth has seen the effects of breast cancer first-hand.

Lorrie has a high risk of breast cancer. She has lost her grandmother, her mother and a cousin to the disease, another cousin has had breast cancer and so has an aunt.

Ten years ago, Lorrie joined the anastrozole medical prevention trial to help researchers find a way to prevent the disease.

“It’s was such a good opportunity to help other generations of my family and other families”.

At the time of enrolling in the trial, Lorrie knew that it could take 10 years for the trial to determine whether the drug would help prevent breast cancer.

Ten years have now passed and the long-term results of using anastrozole for breast cancer prevention were published recently and its good news for wāhine like Lorrie that are at high risk of breast cancer and ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).

The results show that anastrozole maintains a preventative effect for postmenopausal women at high risk of breast cancer for at least 12 years.

Anastrozole inhibits the production of oestrogen in postmenopausal women and has been used for several years now in the treatment of postmenopausal women with oestrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.

The use of anastrozole, which is part of a class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors, is more effective than tamoxifen in women who have already had breast cancer.

This research shows that anastrozole is a safe drug in the long-term and provides women with greater options when it comes to managing their risk. Other options include regular breast screening, preventative surgery and a healthy lifestyle.  

Lorrie has not been diagnosed with breast cancer, she is in good health and has never dwelled on her higher chances of getting the disease. “It’s not something I spend a lot of time thinking about. I work on the theory that if it happens, I’ll deal with it then. “I have had excellent surveillance throughout the trial, particularly with my family history, and this has been very comforting.”

Lorrie is philosophical about cancer and death because of her years of working as an oncology nurse. “I’ve learned from looking after people with cancer that you have to live every day and make the most of that day.”

Jenni is passionate about women receiving the best care

I was 21 when my mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer, my two younger sisters were eight and eleven at the time. I was devastated by this news and I worried for the future of my sisters as they were still so young. My mother enjoyed another 10 years following her initial treatment but unfortunately died of her advanced breast cancer. Our family nursed her at home until the end, which is one of the hardest things I have ever done.

In the early years of my nursing career I worked in an inpatient Oncology ward. I thought I understood how women diagnosed with breast cancer must feel but when it is your own mother, it is a very different experience.

My mother died in the same year that I completed a post-graduate qualification in research. Throughout my studies I had been inspired to work in research as a means of making positive change.

I have now been working as a research nurse at the Breast Care Centre, Waikato Hospital since 1997. Since then, I have worked with local specialists and consider myself very fortunate in my professional life to be able to make a difference with extending women’s lives after a breast cancer diagnosis.

Here in the Waikato region we are one of NZ’s leading breast cancer research centres. As well as our own studies, we collaborate on clinical trials with the Breast Cancer Trials and other major groups around the world.

In 2000, I was one of a group of committed people who set up the Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust, a charitable trust which enables our extensive Waikato research and audit programme.

In the Waikato, more than one woman is diagnosed each day. For every woman diagnosed there are family members and loved ones who are also affected. My commitment to breast cancer research remains stronger than ever. With the knowledge, we have gained from research, I am determined, along with my colleagues, that our women receive the best care possible!

Jenni Scarlet – Research Nurse& Secretary, Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust

COVID-19 information for breast cancer patients and survivors

We understand that many in our community may be considered most vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 due to your age, pre-existing health conditions, if you have metastatic breast cancer, are undergoing treatment or have recently completed treatment for breast cancer or other cancers.

It is important to keep informed about the COVID-19 situation as it continues to change, especially for those who have compromised immunity.

If you are currently in active treatment and concerned about symptoms you should phone your treating doctor or health team, or GP immediately for advice.

If you have finished treatment, you should follow the advice being directed at the general public.

For those undergoing cancer treatments and who may have compromised immune systems below is some information which is designed only as a guide. If you have health concerns or are experiencing symptoms (see below), contact your treatment team immediately. The situation is changing quickly, and you should monitor appropriate information sources, listed below, for the most up to date advice.

As coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread, our thoughts go out to anyone who has been impacted. We hope that everyone is safe and well and taking the necessary  precautions and following the relevant guidelines to help minimise the spread of the virus.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms can range from mild illnesses to pneumonia. Many people will recover easily, however those with compromised immune systems may get sick very quickly. People with COVID-19 may experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, coughing, sore throat, fatigue and shortness of breath.

It’s important to note that some of these symptoms are also side-effects of some cancer treatment. During active treatment, fever or the combination of cough with fever, or cough with difficulty breathing require urgent medical attention.

You should cover all coughs and sneezes with your elbow and tissues and avoid others if you are sick. You should also avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

If you have serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing, call 111 for help.

Who is at risk of getting COVID-19?

Everyone is at risk of getting COVID-19 but it will impact everyone differently. Those with compromised immune systems or pre-existing medical conditions, including cancer, may be at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and may have an increased risk of developing a more severe infection.

However, a past history of early stage breast cancer is not thought to be associated with worse outcomes in itself, unless your doctor has told you otherwise.

Those of a more advanced age, people with other health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, or those with respiratory illnesses are also at a higher risk of developing a more severe infection. The measures being put in place throughout the world aim to help protect these more vulnerable members of society.

What should I do if I am exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case?

If you are exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case, contact your GP, treatment team or treating doctor immediately for advice. Always try to do this over-the-phone and not in person to reduce the risk of exposing others.

You can also call Healthline (for free) on 0800 358 5453

What should I do to protect myself from COVID-19 if I am undergoing treatment?

If you are undergoing cancer treatment, or have a compromised immunity, you may want to take extra precautionary steps to reduce the chance of contracting COVID-19.

This includes washing your hands with soap and water more frequently and for at least 20 seconds, using alcohol-based sanitiser, avoiding touching your face, social distancing, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. Wearing a facemask has not been shown to protect asymptomatic people (non-healthcare workers) from becoming infected with COVID-19.

Discuss with your treating team regarding timing of a flu shot as getting the flu and COVID-19 at the same time can make you very ill.

Also you should ensure you have enough prescription and over-the-counter medications, try to keep space between yourself and others, limit your exposure to groups of people, when in public avoid crowds, wash your hands often and avoid any unnecessary travel.

Do any of my treatments increase my risk of contracting COVID-19?

Cancer treatments that compromise the immune system can make you more vulnerable to infection and therefore increase your risk of COVID-19. Treatments can include chemotherapy, CDK4/6 inhibitors, and surgery.

Radiotherapy is less likely to affect your immune system, but you may find your Radiation Oncology team will look at rescheduling treatments to limit your exposure to others.

Hormone blocking treatments such as tamoxifen, goserelin, letrozole, anastrozole and exemestane are not known to reduce the immune system, therefore people on these treatments for early stage breast cancer are not considered to be at increased risk.

Your doctor and treatment team have your health in their best interests and will be aware of these risks. Follow their advice and speak with them about any concerns you may have.

Does COVID-19 affect my participation in a clinical trial?

At present, the Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust clinical trials will adapt to take into account the current situation. Some changes may be required, such as the use of telehealth for certain trial activities, if possible. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your clinical trial participation, contact your clinical trials nurse or treating doctor.

Will the Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust be continuing clinical trials?

Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust research nurses will be closely monitoring and adapt to the situation to ensure that our trials run as smoothly as possible during this time. Our priority is the safety of patients, and appropriate measures will be put in place to minimise risks to trial participants.

What should my family and friends do to help avoid the spread of COVID-19?

Your family and friends should follow the government guidelines about reducing the spread of COVID-19 which can be found here.

If they are experiencing any symptoms or have come into contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, you should avoid any contact with them, and they should isolate themselves according to the guidelines.

If possible, they should also consider getting the flu shot to avoid sharing the flu to you, while you have a compromised immune system.

What should I do if I am feeling stressed or anxious about COVID-19?

It appears as though COVID-19 is being spoken about everywhere at the moment: in the news, by friends and family, and on social media.

It is important that you monitor the most correct and up-to-date information sources regarding COVID-19. Do not rely on social media as your only form of information. You should get your information from the Ministry of Health New Zealand and the government’s COVID-19 website

Breast Cancer Foundation NZ telephone helpline is operating. This helpline is staffed by breast cancer nurses. It may help to speak with a health care professional about your health concerns. You can call them on 0800 2268 773 or email breastnurse@bcf.org.nz

If you are feeling anxious, have questions or need support, you can contact the Cancer Society information service helpline on 0800 266 237. Their professional team can help to provide emotional support as well as practical tips for minimising the risk of infection during this time.

If you have a treating counsellor, psychologist or onco-psychologist, it may also be helpful to schedule a phone appointment with them to discuss your anxieties and concerns.

This information has been adapted from Breast Cancer Trials ANZ and reviewed by Breast Cancer Trials Medical Advisor on 24/03/20. It is meant as a guide only. If you have concerns regarding your health, contact your treating physician or treatment team.

For more information

For COVID-19 health advice and information, contact the Healthline team on 0800 358 5453 or +64 9 358 5453 for international SIMS.

Useful COVID-19 information links

Government updates on COVID-19 in New Zealand

Ministry of Health New Zealand

World Health Organisation

Our magic partner

The Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust are proud to be the Official Charity Partner of the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic Netball Team and Netball Waikato Bay of Plenty. 

We love having the BEST netball players in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty supporting the work we do, and they are great role models to encourage everyone to be active. Research shows that regular exercise reduces the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer, and also reduces the risk of breast cancer recurrence after diagnosis. 

Sadly the decision has been made, due to COVID-19, to suspend the ANZ Premisership competition and the upcoming netball season. We’re saddened for all the players and team as we’re passionate about netball and will miss watching the team playing. Captain Sam Winders beautifully said though that “now is the time for resilience and reflecting on the health of our people.” and the WBCRT couldn’t agree more.

Glasses sales support breast cancer research

The Specsavers Community Program is where Specsavers stores across the country donate a portion of every glasses sale to both a local charity of the store’s choice and to The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ, which is working to eradicate avoidable blindness in the Pacific.

Since 2014 the Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust have been the local charity supported by the Chartwell and Hamilton CBD Specsavers stores. To date these stores have raised $10,000!

This is an incredible effort from our local community and we are very grateful that Chartwell Specsavers and Hamilton CBD Specsavers have chosen us as their charity to support. 

Their regular donation each quarter has contributed to the introduction of new treatments to improve outcomes and reduce side effects for Waikato and NZ wāhine diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Thank you Specsavers.

Congratulations to Professor Ian Campbell

We are absolutly delighted to share the news that founder and chair of the Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust, Ian Campbell has recently been promoted to Honorary Professor with the University of Auckland, School of Medicine.

Professor Ian Campbell, Breast and General Surgeon, has been a tireless contributor to teaching within the medical trainee programme at Waikato Hospital as well as supervision of surgical trainees completing post graduate research, with many research publications arising from his work with the Trust, associated clinical trials and the Waikato Breast Cancer Register.

Ian was recognised for his services to breast cancer treatment and research with Officer of the NZ Order of Merit in 2013 and this promotion is richly deserved.

Congratulations Professor Ian Campbell.

Chair Breast Cancer Surgeon Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust

Looking for cute christmas gifts?

Shop our ‘Cute as a Button’ or ‘Good Better Best’ range for Christmas this year and help raise funds for local breast cancer research. 

  • Set of 2 mugs – $30. Mix or match, choose from a bunny, kitten, piggy or puppy
  • Set of 4 mugs – $60. Mix or match, choose from a bunny, kitten, piggy or puppy
  • Drink set – $33. Match a drink bottle and mug, choose from a bunny, kitten, piggy or puppy.
  • Good Better Best pack – $60. Pack includes Good Better Best Drink Bottle (one black and one yellow), Good Better Best Tote, two Button Badges and a Button Compact Mirror

Clinical Scholar Award Winner, Dr Mel Edwards

We are extremely proud of Dr Mel Edwards, Doctoral Research Fellow & Surgical Trainee, who has won a scholarship to attend this years San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium and present her PhD thesis, ‘The Impact of Breast Cancer Treatment Concordance on Survival in Relation to Comorbidity Burden’.

This international scientific symposium is for interaction and exchange among basic scientists and clinicians specialising in breast cancer. It is held each December in San Antonio, Texas and is the largest international breast cancer conference. Trustees, Drs Ian Campbell and Marion Kuper-Hommel are also attending the symposium this year.

Doctoral Research Fellow Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust

Dr Edwards is only one of five global award recipients of the ‘Clinical Scholar Award’, which recognises clinical scientists in-training who are actively pursuing clinical or clinical / translational research in breast cancer.

Congratulations Mel!

Welcome to our new trustee

Dani is a public relations and communications professional and is co-director with her husband Chris of their consultancy business, Dynamic Media.

Her background is in media, having been an award-winning journalist and editor for almost 20 years. It was working in community news that she developed a strong sense of community spirit and now enjoys giving back to charitable organisations that are close to her heart.

Having close family and friends diagnosed with breast cancer and having lost her first husband, Clinton, to brain cancer, Dani is passionate about supporting both the Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust as a trustee and the Brain Tumour Support Trust in a pro bono capacity.

Dani is a member of the Institute of Directors and the Waikato Chamber of Commerce.

Her personal interests include cooking, F45, reading, and enjoying family time at Waihi Beach.

Welcome Dani to our board of trustees.

National Best in Breast Care Conference

Every other year we organise a national conference for health professionals and allied health professionals in New Zealand that are involved with the care of people with breast cancer.  This year the conference was held at the Hamilton Gardens Pavilion on Friday 8th November. This was very well attended with 180 delegates coming from around the country, from as far north as Whangarei and as far south as Dunedin.

The conference was promoted amongst GPs this year and we had 15 GPs attend. Other attendees were nurses (Breast Care, Plastic Surgery, Theatre, District, Surgical, Oncology and Practice); radiation therapists, MITs (mammographers and ultra-sonographers), staff from Breast Screen Aotearoa and breast cancer support organisations as well as research staff from the Universities of Auckland & Waikato.

With local and national breast cancer specialists, general practitioners and consumers presenting, they all provided an excellent overview on current management of early and metastatic breast cancer. Topics included oncoplastic surgery, health literacy, survivorship, genetics and the Breast Screening Aotearoa programme.

For the first time we had a panel discussion on the future role of general practice in shared care which invited questions from conference attendees. We also had our first international speaker, Professor Sandie McCarthy (Professor of Nursing, University of Queensland, Brisbane) who presented on the importance of women’s wellness after cancer. Professor McCarthy has been involved in research introducing health promotion utilising digital platforms and evidence-based information on healthy lifestyles.

Candy Atkinson (Breast Screen Midland Data Manager) was the final speaker of the day and presented on cultural considerations for working with Māori wāhine.  She left an impact on us all, with one delegate commenting that, “Candy as final speaker was great, very moving, and reminded us that we are all working together for the benefit of women”.

The generous sponsorship we received to manage conference logistics and costs enabled us to raise $12,000 for our clinical trials and research projects.

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