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Survival rates for people with breast cancer have increased significantly, however there is still no effective treatment for metastatic breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. That’s why, Cancer Council Beat Cancer Project funded researcher, Associate Professor Theresa Hickey from the University of Adelaide is investigating a new treatment which aims to prevent breast cancer from spreading.

This International Women’s Day we are championing the unique skills and knowledge of women in science by chatting to A/Prof. Hickey about her career as a cancer researcher and what she hopes to achieve with support from Cancer Council’s Beat Cancer Project.

What first motivated you to become a breast cancer researcher?

“The fact that cancer cells can live forever in a plastic dish and normal cells cannot fascinated me when I first started working in the laboratory. It still fascinates me many years later,” A/Prof. Hickey says.

“Professionally, I was inspired to move almost exclusively into the field of breast cancer research after attending a conference where we heard from people impacted by breast cancer and I found their stories, enthusiasm and advocacy very compelling.”

Has breast cancer treatment improved?

“Estrogen receptor driven breast cancer is the most common type of this disease. Advances in care have dramatically improved patient survival rates, especially for disease that is confined to the breast,” A/Prof. Hickey says.

“However, treating disease that has left the breast (metastatic breast cancer) remains the biggest problem as it is the highest cause of death from breast cancer.”

What do you hope to achieve through funding from Cancer Council’s Beat Cancer Project?

“Cancer Council’s Beat Cancer Project will help us test a new form of hormone-based therapy that may prevent breast cancer cells from leaving the breast to seed and grow in vital organs like the brain and liver,” A/Prof. Hickey says.

“Using state-of-the-art models of estrogen receptor driven breast cancer that we developed, our aim is to discover a treatment for breast cancer that will prevent breast cancer cells from escaping the breast and spreading to vital organs in the body.”

“Funding from Cancer Council’s Beat Cancer Project is critically important to keeping the South Australian cancer research sector alive and productive. It is particularly pleasing to get local support for the work we and others do.”

Thanks to generous donations from the South Australian community, Cancer Council SA has invested nearly $2 million into local, South Australian cancer research in 2023, like A/Prof. Hickey’s. Read more about the current cancer research projects we are funding.

A/Prof. Hickey and her team love to share their research with the public and can arrange a group tour of their laboratories for those interested. If you’d like to register your interest for a tour, you can contact or Research Manager Elizabeth Kuczek at

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