Ministry injects $2 million to fund genomic research

North Saanich's Susan Mcloughlin can say she beat breast cancer not once, but twice in her life.

North Saanich’s Susan Mcloughlin can say she beat breast cancer not once, but twice in her life.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the first or second time. Your first initial reaction is you’re scared,” said Mcloughlin, after she was first diagnosed.

In 1989, she elected to have a mastectomy and follow-up treatment was not necessary because doctors caught the disease in the early stages.

But 14 years later, she found another lump in her other breast. It was not a relapse, but a different form of breast cancer, requiring more specialized treatment.

Mcloughlin had another mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation, and within half a year, she beat cancer for a second time.

She credits her survival to the work and ground-breaking research being done by the B.C. Cancer Agency to customize treatments.

“I truly believe in my heart that the answer lies with research and they’ll find an answer some day,” she said. “It’s not easy. Everyone needs to help. If you just look around, you have no idea how many families are struck (by breast cancer).”

Last Thursday, Health Minister Terry Lake announced a $2-million investment to support genomic research at the B.C. Cancer Agency.

The funding will support the five-year, $15-million breast cancer awareness initiative led by world-renowned scientist Dr. Samuel Aparicio, head of breast and molecular oncology at the agency.

As part of the program, scientists aim to genomically sequence every breast cancer patient’s tumour at the time of diagnosis, province-wide, and follow the evolution of the disease over time, which will allow them to come up with more personalized treatments.

“This is ground-breaking research that will help British Columbians but also people around the world,” said Lake.

Through Aparicio’s work over the last decade, the agency has already decoded 10 subtypes of breast cancer.

“In many ways, each breast cancer patient is unique. The genetic quote “fingerprint” is different than any other one,” said Malcolm Moore, president of the B.C. Cancer Agency, adding that a decade ago they would apply a similar treatment to all women with the disease.

“As we start to understand the biology and genetics of breast cancer, we can start to say, ‘based on what we understand about this particular tumour in this patient, this patient should be treatment A, while this person is better off with treatment B.We fit the profile of the patient to the drugs we have available.”

There are more than 3,000 British Columbia who will affected by the disease every year.