Interview with Dr Kara Britt — Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

Written by Martine Harte. 

“I guess that’s alarming when we look at the changes in the trends that we’re having as a society in terms of childbearing. So globally we have less children. We are breastfeeding for a shorter period. And we tend to have start our families a lot older.” Dr Kara Britt.

Under Dr Kara Britt’s white coat beats a compassionate heart.

Can you imagine a world where there is a preventative to reduce the risk of hormonal breast cancer? Well, it’s closer than you may think.

She and the team at Peter MacCallum are working to explain why women who have children early in life are less likely to develop breast cancer.

This interview isn’t designed to alarm or guilt anyone into their life decisions, it’s about empowerment.

Dr Kara Britt is one of the awesome researchers who can do what she does because of money raised by events such as the Mother’s Day Classic so she’s also here to remind us registrations are open.

Meet Kara…

Martine Harte: Can you tell us a little about your research?

Dr Kara Britt: We’re looking at behaviours or risk factors that can decrease your risk of developing breast cancer, we already know that eating healthily reduces your risk of breast cancer, as does drinking less alcohol.

What is perhaps less well known is that the risk is decreased if you have children.

Even though we’ve known this since the 1800’s we still don’t know how pregnancy protects the breast against breast cancer.

So interesting, what age bracket are you talking?

Dr Kara Britt: So women who are under 35 when they have their first child are known to have a decrease in breast cancer risk.

I guess that’s alarming when we look at the changes in the trends that we’re having as a society in terms of childbearing.

So globally we have less children.

We are breastfeeding for a shorter period.

And we tend to have start our families a lot older.

So many of us feel we can pursue the career and then pause it, do you often feel people might be scared not to pursue their career goals?

Dr Kara Britt: That’s a really topical question. We don’t want to dictate to women what age they should start having their children but I guess by us researching why young mothers have these benefits we can provide women with some information (once we know the answers) to make their own informed decisions.

If we can explain to women why childbearing early can decrease their breast cancer risk it might help them to make this personal and important decision.

Even better than that, we’re hoping we can find a preventative that mirrors the affects of having those early pregnancies then those decisions won’t be so hard for them to make.

I understand your mum was diagnosed in her late 40’s are you happy to take us back to that point in your life?

Dr Kara Britt: Absolutely, it was a very sad experience for my whole family, as we lost our best friend.

However, we tried to look at it also as a positive experience in that it brought our family closer and gave me a passion to continue breast cancer research. My mother succumbed to the disease in 2010.

It was extremely hard losing my mother and I think a lot of people reading your article participating in the Mother’s Day Classic this year would have been through the same thing.

The Mother’s Day Classic is part of my family tradition, it has the best vibe despite what is bringing everyone together.

Dr Kara Britt: People are coming together and celebrating the life of their loved ones, or the fact they’ve got through chemotherapy session or have gone into remission. You have to celebrate everything.

We go to the classic with grandparents, uncles, aunties, friends and it’s a celebration of my mother’s life.

It’s also a bit of a tear jerker because you see amongst the sea of pink the tribute cards for those lost to this disease.

Two of my dear friends have recently found out they have the gene – one of the awesome things about scientific advancements – does your research impact on that?

Dr Kara Britt: If we find a preventative it may be able to fight all types of cancer not just hormonal cancers. We will test it in genetic cancers, BRCA1 and BRCA2.

In terms of your lifetime are you hopeful Kara that we’ll win this fight?

Dr Kara Britt: I’m definitely hopeful we’ll find a preventative in my lifetime, the classic is the single largest donor to Australian breast cancer research through its support of the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

We’re getting closer and closer to finding something that’s going to reduce our risk.

Source: Engaging Women - Unlocking life tips from inspiring minds