John Forbes, Director of Research - Australia & New Zealand Breast Cancer Trials Group

John Forbes

Clinical trials have played a significant role in the improvements to breast cancer mortality rates in Australia, particularly over the last 20 years.

The key to this success has been collaboration - researchers working with women who participate in clinical trials, with support from individual donors and corporate supporters.

I have been inspired by my colleagues, both in Australia and internationally, who have asked important scientific questions and by women who participate in trials to help improve treatments and outcomes for future generations.

I have been humbled by support from the community, no matter how big or small, who recognise the importance of clinical trials.

Together we are all working towards a common goal.

As the International Study Co-Chair of the IBIS-I and IBIS-II prevention clinical trials, and Co-Chair of the ATAC study - each designed to improve outcomes for women at risk of or diagnosed with breast cancer - I have seen firsthand how this research has changed clinical practice.

The IBIS-I clinical trial examined the long-term risk and benefits of taking tamoxifen for five years to prevent breast cancer in women at high risk of the disease. Long term analysis found that the preventative effect of tamoxifen continued for 20 years, long after treatment with the drug had stopped, with breast cancer rates reduced by around 30%.

The ATAC study showed that the aromatase inhibitor anastrozole is a better alternative to tamoxifen for treating breast cancer.

The IBIS-II clinical trial found that taking the breast cancer drug anastrozole for five years reduced the chances of postmenopausal women at high risk of breast cancer developing the disease by 53% compared with women who took a placebo.

In more recent years new trials developed and coordinated by the Australia and New Zealand Breast Cancer Trials Group are supporting the ideas of local researchers and are aimed at tailoring treatments to a woman’s specific type of breast cancer and her unique circumstances.

Today is an exciting time for researchers. In the era of molecular biology, we are learning more and more about breast cancer and personalised medicine.

I have no doubt that one day there will be a cure for more women diagnosed or at risk of breast cancer.

Our national and global collaborations will be the key.