The future of cancer research

19 September 2019 | Cancer Council NSW

The Pathways Breast Cancer Team: Dr Louiza Velentzis, Dr Carolyn Nickson and Dr Pietro Procopio


Sadly, breast cancer remains the second most common cause of cancer death in Australian women, with over 18,000 Australian women diagnosed each year.

That is why, with your support, we established the Pathways Breast Cancer Team.

The team is led by epidemiologist and breast cancer researcher Dr Carolyn Nickson.

“What this program will ultimately deliver,” says Dr Nickson, “is a very good understanding of the benefits, the harms, and the costs of different screening protocols.”

“Those benefits include early detection of cancer, reduced burden of treatment, and fewer lives lost.”

“Earlier detection means reduced need for chemotherapy, reduced need for radiotherapy, reduced need for mastectomies and a better chance of survival.”

This is the overriding goal of Dr Nickson’s research. It’s why she asked Dr Procopio to join her team.

An astrophysicist before joining Cancer Council NSW, Dr Procopio used to work on collaborations with the European Space Agency.

Today, the same cutting-edge mathematical thinking he used to help put satellites into orbit is being used to find ways to increase the early detection of breast cancer.

Dr Procopio is modelling detailed, population-level, tailored screening protocols that take each woman’s risk profile into account.

“What we are doing now is trying to understand what all the risk factors are and how they link to each other,” says Dr Procopio.

But that’s only part of the puzzle.

 “We have measured the risk factors in a very large cohort of women,” says Dr Nickson. “We’re now looking at how they are associated with cancers that have arisen, how and when those cancers were detected, and how aggressive those cancers are.”

“That really helps us have an even better understanding of how some sort of baseline risk assessment might be used to tailor screening strategies for each individual woman.”

Thank you for being one of the special people who fund the researchers working on what could be the next breakthrough in breast cancer.