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

Research continues to answer questions about sentinel lymph node biopsy

Whether or not breast cancer has spread to the axillary or armpit lymph nodes, remains an important indicator of outcome for women/wāhine with breast cancer, and may help predict the need for further treatment (e.g. chemotherapy or radiotherapy). Historically axillary node status has been determined by removal of most of the nodes (axillary clearance).  This operation may lead to arm swelling (lymphoedema), pain, some abnormal skin sensation or shoulder stiffness.

Waikato Hospital surgeons and researchers introduced “sentinel node biopsy” to breast cancer surgery in 2002. Sentinel node biopsy involves the removal of only a small number of lymph nodes most closely related to the breast cancer.

The Waikato is now a centre for a fourth international sentinel node biopsy trial. It is important we carefully evaluate the benefits and risks of introducing this lesser surgery to the axilla for women/wāhine with different types of breast cancer. Helen is a participant on the “Sentinel Node biopsy versus Axillary Clearance Part 2 (SNAC 2) trial, she recently shared with us her journey.

As the daughter of a pharmacist and a nurse, being an occupational therapist myself and married to a medical man, particpating in a clinical trial seemed sensible

“It has been difficult to remember many details about this story as it began 10 years ago, and my mind has proven to have the ability to forget the actual pain and discomfort.

I had had a history of cysts over the years so when a routine mammogram indicated I should have an ultrasound; I assumed more cysts. I was surprised to be told I had breast cancer and disbelief was my initial reaction as I felt remarkably fit and healthy and well! My next reaction was “Tell me the plan to get rid of it”. The label for my breast cancer was multifocal grade 2 invasive lobular carcinoma and the advised plan was to have a total mastectomy with reconstruction. ‘In for a dime, in for a dollar’ – get it all over and done with in one hit was my reasoning.

With this plan timetabled, my surgeon, Ian Campbell, asked if I would participate in a clinical trial. As the daughter of a pharmacist and a nurse, being an occupational therapist myself and married to a medical man, this seemed sensible. I reasoned that it may help with future treatments and improve life expectancy for others. It was SNAC 2 trial, Sentinel Node biopsy versus Axillary Clearance.

Needless to say, I ascertained there was no additional risk to myself, only a couple of extra appointments and another ultrasound with dye injected to trace which lymph nodes were feeding / draining the three tumours.

My surgery proceeded as expected but then came the news that one lymph node had cancer cells and with that news, another date with the surgeon was organised. Following this I was discharged with a drain in place which the district nurse encouraged me to keep until there was no more fluid to drain. I have been lucky enough to escape any issue with lymphoedema.

For some weird reason I had thought that the surgeries would suffice to beat this cancer but no … chemotherapy, followed by radiation, gave me better survival stats so again – ‘in for a dime in for a dollar’. I took all the drugs to combat the side effects of chemo, wore my wig and managed.  The radiation was a chore and I remember feeling weary towards the end. Now, 10 years later, the whole experience is a bit of a blur, but I know it irrevocably changed my life and furnished me with the resilience and understanding to dual with further life events.

I know that I would not have come to this place without the comfort and kindness of friends and family.”

Springtime’s Breast News

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Hilary’s story of EXPERT trial participation

“Having a cancer diagnosis makes you realise there are many different kinds of cancer and that the medical profession is constantly trying to discover how best to deal with the disease”.

Last year I had breast conserving surgery for a stage two cancer, picked up by mammogram. Among all the emotions you go through with a cancer diagnosis, there was a small sense of relief that mine had been found at an early stage by having regular mammograms, as it would have been too small to be detected otherwise. 

I was asked at Waikato Hospital if I’d be interested in participating in the EXPERT trial if I was a suitable candidate – and this brought another little glimmer of light  that in some way I could help the search for better cancer treatments.

Before my surgery, I’d been told that the follow-up treatment would be several weeks of radio therapy plus hormone therapy.

This initiated late night web searches about potential side effects and the effectiveness of radio therapy for breast cancer. I found out more than I really wanted to know about radiotherapy, but also learned that there is some doubt as to whether it is necessary for all types of breast cancer and that the only way of finding out was to carry out clinical trials like EXPERT.

Fifty years ago the only treatment for breast cancer was a radical mastectomy followed by cobalt radiotherapy and it’s only through clinical trials that breast conserving surgery has become the norm for low risk cancers like mine.

Knowing more about the treatment options and having information about potential side effects and what type of cancer I had, helped me feel more comfortable about making a decision for my own treatment.

As we live on the Coromandel Peninsula, I travel three hours each way to attend appointments, but I feel it’s important to be involved in research which will help the treatment of other women, and also so that I can benefit from the long term follow-up that the study provides.

Waikato Treasure Chests need more women power

The Waikato Treasure Chests (WTC) are our local dragon boat team of breast cancer survivors and supporters. A competitive team consists of 22 women in the boat. There is increasing evidence that exercise benefits breast cancer survivors, including reducing risk of breast cancer recurrence. Dragon boat paddling also helps maintain the mobility of the arm most affected by the breast cancer surgery.

The objectives of the WTC are to;

  • promote wellness, fitness, fun and camaraderie,
  • send a positive message of hope to other people living with breast cancer and to those who support them,
  • raise awareness about breast cancer whilst supporting the search for a cure.

Give it a go!

For further information or follow WTC on Facebook

Breast Cancer Trials annual conference

Breast Cancer Trials Australia & New Zealand (BCTANZ)  is the largest breast cancer research group in NZ and many of the clinical trials that the WBCRT team enable are coordinated through this group.

Waikato researchers, Dr Ian Campbell, Dr Marion Kuper and research nurse Heather Flay attended the BCT conference held this year in Adelaide, South Australia.

There were many eminent international breast cancer experts who updated conference attendees on a cross section of topics relating to breast cancer diagnosis, care and treatment.

Topics covered advances in breast imaging, the management of low to intermediate grade ductal carcinoma insitu (surgery or active monitoring) and the need to develop laboratory tests that distinguish between aggressive and non-progressive forms of DCIS (which is sometimes referred to as a pre-cancerous condition), the introduction of new technologies to assess surgical margins during breast conserving surgery and more. 

It is always inspiring to have local and international experts passing on their knowledge and experience of practice and research from international cancer centres. We can bring this knowledge back for the benefit of Waikato wāhine/women.

Clinical trial “ Examining Personalised Radiation Therapy (EXPERT) for low-risk early breast cancer

The current standard of care for women with early breast cancer is radiation therapy after breast conserving surgery to reduce risk of recurrence and improve survival. However, breast cancer is a complex disease and the absolute benefit of radiation therapy in individual patients varies substantially. 

The EXPERT clinical trial is investigating whether a laboratory test called a genomic assay can help doctors select out women with low risk breast cancer, who may be able to avoid radiotherapy and its associated side effects.This research aims to improve personalised use of radiation therapy in early breast cancer patients, according to individual risk of local recurrence.

Waikato Hospital is a centre for this international clinical trial coordinated by Breast Cancer Trials Australian & New Zealand. Other centres in New Zealand are Palmerston North, Wellington and Christchurch Hospitals.

To learn more visit:

Cancer through the eyes of a husband, my wife’s breast cancer journey

It all started with a lump in the right breast that was noticeably growing daily. A biopsy revealed that the tumour was cancerous and positive to three receptors and it needed to be removed asap. But first we needed chemo to shrink the tumour as it was now 75 x 50mm. 

The first chemo almost didn’t happen as my wife’s blood count was low. This is when we realised this was serious. We debated with our oncologist and eventually we continued with the first chemo. Lucky for us the blood count improved and we were able continue with the full treatment.

We had just dodged our first bullet. From now on we needed a plan.  The anxiety we had just experienced was horrific. We needed to change our mind set if we had any chance of beating this. We needed to manage what we could control and not worry about what we had no control over.

Don’t worry about blood test, bone scan or CT scan results.  Once we had a result, good or bad, the sooner we could plan the next step. Knowing is better than not knowing. The result wasn’t the issue, anxiety and managing stress were, so how do you mitigate these feelings.

Understand and be prepared to ask the medical team any questions, as you need to have confidence in them. If it is not working or you are unhappy, change your doctor. They are there to help and will not be offended. We were very open with everyone. This way we never had to confront someone who didn’t know where we were at.

We set goals. At the time we owned a retail shop. We sold the shop. My wife had always wanted to be a qualified primary school teacher. We enrolled at university. This also gave her something to focus on and stopped the mind wandering. Chemo is hard, but this was the drive to get out of bed and to keep going. After three years she qualified and was given her own class.

Well before we started losing the battle with breast cancer my wife wrote future birthday cards for her daughter till she was 21. This was hard, but so rewarding and another box ticked. I never asked how are you feeling? I saw my role was to support and create a positive environment for everyone, as this would be the best way to beat this disease.  

Celebrating our volunteers

National Volunteer Week celebrates the collective contribution of the 1.2 million volunteers who enrich Aotearoa New Zealand. National Volunteer Week 2019 runs from June 16-22. This year’s theme is “Whiria te tangata – weaving the people together”.

Here at the Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust we are very fortunate to have several people who volunteer their time to support us with our events and fundraising efforts. Volunteering, Mahi Aroha and social action weave people and communities together and one volunteer in particular is our angel and over the past two and a half years Margaret Jenkins has been a part of our team every week for a few hours.

Marg’s network of contacts has enabled her to secure incredible auction items for our ‘Best Of’ functions, spot prizes and raffles prizes for our annual Pink Walk and Button Run, and goody bag items for our bi-annual Breast Cancer Conference. She also connects the Trust with the media for advertising. Her wealth of knowledge of marketing and communications has been invaluable to us, as well as her experience of building relationships with people.

“I’m passionate about supporting the Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust. The team and what they do for women’s survival, and the difference they make to families is incredible. I understand the importance of having parents in your life until you’re an adult yourself, and clinical trials research is fighting for the very best outcomes for women so they can be there in the future with their family.”

We celebrated Marg with a morning tea this week and gifted her with flowers, a voucher and card. Her energy, passion and commitment holds us together, quite fitting given we believe that mothers are like buttons; holding everything together and enables us to really make our events the ‘best of’.

A very active member in her community, Marg is also a Rotarian and volunteers at Kaivolution and is part of the Native Plant Restoration Trust. There is no doubt she is “Whiria te tangata – weaving the people together”.

St Paul’s Collegiate fundraiser

Every year the Harington girls at St Paul’s Collegiate hold a fashion show to showcase their talents. It also forms part of their house competition. They then choose a charity that they want the proceeds of the ticket sales to go to. This year they chose the WBCRT to receive their funds raised, as the guest speaker for the event, Sacha Coburn, is a breast cancer survivor. Well gone girls, $650 was raised!

Speaker Sacha Coburn talked about being a breast cancer survivor and how her partner and she became owners of Coffee Culture cafes. She spoke of life as a young couple with a baby and absolutely no money. If they had visitors, she would check the couch after they had left to see whether any coins had dropped out of their pockets. She also spoke of everyone having something they were good at and learning to recognise what that was.

True. Best Friends

A heartfelt thank you to True. for hosting a wonderful evening last night to raise funds for Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust.

The ‘Sip & Shop’ event packed out the store and we feel very humbled by the generosity of True, their event sponsors that provided food, drink, decorations and auction items as well as all those that attended.

One of the most common reasons women give when consenting to participate in a clinical research trial of an experimental treatment, is that they want to contribute to knowledge for future generations of women diagnosed with breast cancer.  With the fundraising efforts of True, they have assisted with supporting these Waikato women with helping  gain knowledge and save lives for the generations to come.

#TrueBrEaSTfriend #Fundraising #Brightasabutton #Mothersarelikebuttons #Bestoutcomes

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