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Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australian women. Over 19,300 women are diagnosed every year—of those women, over 3,000 will lose their life. With your help, Associate Professor Lisa Beatty has been funded through Cancer Council’s Beat Cancer Project since 2018 to change that and help more South Australians living with cancer, and recently her research was given even more of a boost.

A/Prof Beatty from Flinders University has just been awarded a three-year $545,259 grant from Cancer Australia through the 2020 Priority-driven Collaborative Cancer Research Scheme (PdCCRS) for her project: Finding My Way-Advanced: Can a web-based psychosocial intervention improve mental quality of life for women with metastatic breast cancer? Here’s what she had to say about her research and the latest grant which is supporting the thousands of Australian women impacted by breast cancer every year.

Q: How are you feeling about being awarded the new grant in support of Finding My Way – Advanced?

A: I’m feeling absolutely delighted! This project is one I’m very passionate about and has been a six-year long commitment (so far)! This was the third time I’d submitted this project for National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC)/Cancer Australia PdCCRS funding: each time the application was stronger (our previous application led to us receiving Cancer Council’s Beat Cancer Project funding, to develop and pilot test our intervention), but given the number of really amazing projects that are submitted each year and the overall low funding rates of clinical trials in Australia, I feel extremely fortunate to have been successful this time.

Q: Tell us a bit about the project. Why is this type of support so important for women diagnosed with advanced breast cancer?

A: The aim of this project is to compare the benefits of our web-based program “Finding My Way – Advanced” with a control condition (comprised of existing online reputable cancer information resources), in improving quality of life, psychological distress, fear of progression, unmet needs, and health service utilisation in a large national study.

Our program, Finding My Way – Advanced, is a web-based self-directed resource for women with metastatic (incurable) breast cancer (MBC). It has been co-designed with stakeholders (including health care professionals, advocacy groups, and women with MBC) to provide information and therapeutic strategies to address the most commonly experienced psychosocial concerns that arise after diagnosis, and aims to promote ‘living well’ with metastatic illness.

This type of support is so important because the psychological needs of women with metastatic breast cancer are under-recognised and as a result this population is underserved. Distress (e.g., depression and anxiety), and impaired quality of life can occur in up to 43 per cent of women following diagnosis, compared to 20 per cent in the community. Left untreated, distress and impaired quality of life can result in increased health burden. Given the improvements in treatments and survival duration, the number of women living with MBC is increasing, but there are access barriers to existing psychological supports, and existing services (typically face-to-face) can preclude participation by women with high symptom burden, who live in rural/remote areas, are living with socioeconomic disadvantage, or have occupational or carer demands. Digital health tools—such as our web-based therapy program—could address these barriers in this population. It offers women the benefits of being able to self-pace and self-tailor the resources, with convenience and anonymity.

Q: How has Cancer Council SA supported your research to date? Why is this support important?

A: Without the pivotal support of the Beat Cancer Project funding, we would not have been able to submit the strong pilot data that I believe was crucial to the grant’s success. Furthermore, I have recently completed a four-and-a-half-year fellowship with Cancer Council SA and continue to maintain strong collaborative ties with Cancer Council SA, which have also served to considerably support my research.

Q: What do you hope this funding will help you achieve?

A: The aim is to demonstrate that this web-program is beneficial for supporting women and is safe. Once we achieve this, the longer-term goal is to make this program freely available to the Australian MBC community, through partnering with Breast Cancer Network of Australia (BCNA) who have committed to the ongoing hosting of the program.

Q: How important is it to fund cancer research like yours and researchers like you?

A: It’s pivotal! We can’t expect to improve cancer outcomes without investing in research to identify new targets for prevention, screening, treatment, supportive care, and cure.

Q: Do you encourage South Australians to continue to get behind and support research? Why?

A: Yes, South Australian researchers are doing incredible work in cancer, across the full trajectory from prevention to palliative care. It directly affects the care the community will receive.


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