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Discover the five highlights of our Breast Health Forum, presented by our Main Partner, National Bank, and held virtually on May 14. For this sixth edition, more than a dozen specialists presented conferences on advances in research, from laboratory studies to patient treatments.

Advances in precision medicine and PARP inhibitors Dr. Jean-Yves Masson

It is now known that genetic damage, or mutations, can lead to breast cancer. There are various genes whose role is to monitor and repair damaged DNA to prevent the development of cancer. These include the BRCA and PALB2 genes. But an abnormality in one of these genes could prevent it from performing its monitoring functions, thus increasing the risk of developing breast cancer.

What if it were possible to identify these mutations and specifically destroy cancer cells? This is what Dr. Jean-Yves Masson’s team is trying to discover. Mutations in the PALB2 gene represent vulnerabilities that can be targeted with molecules called poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase inhibitors (PARPi).

Clinical trials are currently underway to identify which mutations in the PALB2 gene respond to PARPi, with the aim of providing personalized treatments. DNA sequencing would help determine which patients could benefit from this type of therapy.

Bacteria, our friends… in breast cancer! Dr. Réjean Lapointe

For over a decade, we have known the importance of the composition of the gut microbiome for our health. Today, a new step has just been taken in this field following the discovery of a microbiome inside tumour cells. This opens up new perspectives in immunotherapy. Dr. Réjean Lapointe’s laboratory is seeking to better understand the link between this intratumor microbiome, the stimulation of the local immune system, and the fate of cancer cells.

It would seem that the abundance of the microbiome is linked to better patient survival. Dr. Lapointe’s team wants to more precisely identify the different species of bacteria present in tumour cells to better understand their role and determine which ones could have a positive impact on cancer progression.

These discoveries may lead to new therapies aimed at injecting bacteria into cancerous tumours to trigger an immune response and thus improve breast cancer treatments.

Cancer vaccines and their use as a treatment against breast cancer Dr. Marie-Claude Bourgeois-Daigneault

We are all familiar with prophylactic vaccines, which aim to mobilize our immune system to prevent the onset of certain diseases. But vaccines can also be used as cancer therapies, enabling the cells of the patient’s immune system to recognize and eliminate cancer cells. Since they patrol the entire body by way of the bloodstream and lymphatic system, immune system cells can even reach metastases and prevent relapse. The challenge is to figure out how to specifically identify cancer cells according to different types of cancer. Although no therapeutic vaccine is approved yet, research continues with more than 230 clinical studies underway around the world. In Quebec, one study is attempting to develop a vaccine that can recognize cancer cells by targeting HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) to mobilize the immune system in a specific way.

Detecting and managing symptoms to improve breast cancer treatment: the e-IMPAQc project Dr. Sylvie Lambert

We know that people treated for breast cancer can experience many challenges throughout the course of their care. However, it is not always clear how, when, or to whom to address these issues. In an effort to improve the detection and evaluation of symptoms, Dr. Lambert’s team is developing and implementing an innovative and free electronic program in Quebec called e-IMPAQc (Electronic Implementation of Patient- and Caregiver-Reported Outcomes Across Cancer Centres in Quebec). This program allows patients undergoing cancer treatment to self-report their side effects systematically using standardized questionnaires. In addition to facilitating communication and collaboration between the patient and the health care team, the program promotes faster management of symptoms and more effective follow-up. Also, by placing patients’ feelings and perceptions first, they feel more heard and supported. Overall, their quality of life can improve, and perhaps even their chances of survival. The program also collects feedback from caregivers to support them in their role. The research aims to ensure that the program meets the various needs of cancer patients.

Advances in clinical research; spotlight on the PERSPECTIVE project: integration and implementation Dr. Jacques Simard

Currently, the Quebec Breast Cancer Screening Program recommends that women aged 50 to 69 undergo a screening mammogram. Although age is one of the main risk factors for breast cancer, there are many others, such as breast density, lifestyle habits and genetic mutations. Is it therefore sufficient to make recommendations for the general population based on this factor alone?

In collaboration with several partners, the PERSPECTIVE study seeks to determine whether a personalized screening approach based on individual risk level is possible and to establish a framework to support its optimal implementation in the Canadian healthcare system.

More than 5,000 women between the ages of 40 and 69 were recruited in Quebec and Ontario for this study, which focuses on innovative risk-stratification tools combining genetic information and other factors.

More than 5,000 women between the ages of 40 and 69 were recruited in Quebec and Ontario for this study, which focuses on innovative risk-stratification tools combining genetic information and other factors. As part of the study, an action plan is provided according to the risk category and includes recommendations in terms of age, additional tests, or screening frequency.

The PERSPECTIVE study has generated evidence on the feasibility, acceptability, adoption, social and ethical issues, and cost-effectiveness of such a personalized approach.

If you missed this conference day, stay tuned for next year’s Forum. Follow us on social media for the announcement of the next date (you will find our links at the bottom of the page)! We would once again like to thank all the speakers and people who were involved in the success of this annual scientific event. Thank you also to all our partners for their participation and involvement.