16 October 2020 by Prof Annie Joubert
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign by private and public healthcare organisations to increase awareness of the disease on a national scale. In the infographic below, UP researcher Professor Annie Joubert guides us through some fast facts on breast cancer and what you need to know about the disease.
Cancer was described in ancient times by Greek academics Hippocrates and Celsus, and by Galen of the Roman Empire. In essence, it is a disease of your DNA. Mutations in your genome influence your risk of being diagnosed with cancer and may determine what happens during the course of the disease. You could be born with mutations that make you more susceptible to cancer, or they might occur during your lifetime due to internal or external factors. Gene mutations increase the risk of cancer which can be triggered by various factors like acute/chronic stress, alcohol consumption, use of tobacco products, diet, lack of physical activity, environmental pollutants, ultraviolet radiation, reproductive and hormonal factors, occupational exposures, and infection-attributable cancers. The possibility of screening for DNA mutations in genes that could increase the risk of cancer, especially breast cancer, is advancing with the production of panel testing kits, some of which can target hundreds of genes. There is no doubt that the development and roll-out of these tests will save lives.
The advent of modern DNA technologies, and particularly next-generation sequencing, is rapidly changing the face of this illness, diagnostics and treatment. Eliminating cancer requires a combination of cancer awareness to address the burden of this disease and prevention strategies that contribute to early detection and promoting health and well-being education, as well as the acceleration of science and discovery and progress in technology.
Prof Joubert’s research focus is cancer cellular physiology. She studies cancer drug design and cancer cell signalling to identify targets for therapeutic intervention in the fight against the disease. Her research findings have implications for precision or personalised medicine that could deliver treatment to patients based on specific mutations in their tumours. This in turn helps to develop therapies that specifically target cancer cells or the cellular pathways affected to improve the quality of life of the patient with minimal side effects.