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Breast Biology and Cancer

Led by Associate Professor Wendy Ingman

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in Australian women, affecting 1 in 8 before the age of 85. While breast cancer treatment has improved, little progress has been made towards reducing the incidence of this disease.

Also common in women is lactation mastitis; an inflammatory breast disease that affects 1 in 4 breastfeeding women. The disease causes localised pain and is frequently accompanied by the rapid onset of systemic symptoms including fever, muscle aches,and fatigue. The challenges posed by this disease often lead women to cease breastfeeding, leaving their infants at increased risk of respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases as babies, and a number of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes as adults.

The Breast Biology and Cancer group works closely with surgeons and oncologists at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital to understand how hormones and immune cells affect breast function. The group seeks to better understand the biological mechanisms that underpin breast cancer risk factors, including menstrual cycling, pregnancy and mammographic density, to aid in the prevention and early detection of breast cancer.

A key focus has been understanding how immune cells and inflammatory factors affect breast density. Breast density is an important risk factor in the development of breast cancer, however little is known about the biological mechanisms that cause highly dense tissue to be at increased risk. We demonstrated that immune cells are altered in highly dense breast tissue, which may predispose the breast to increased risk of cancer.

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The Robinson Research Institute