Breast cancer research scoops international award

Harkeran Jandu

Research by a University of Leicester PhD student into the side effects of breast cancer treatment have been internationally recognised.

Harkeran Jandu has clinched the prestigious European Breast Cancer Council Young Investigator Innovation Award for her work which investigated patients’ quality of life following breast cancer surgery and radiation treatment.

Radiotherapy is a common treatment for cancer but poses a risk to tissues and organs surrounding it with some patients more sensitive than others and at risk of side effects.

Harkeran said: “The award was totally unexpected but a wonderful surprise. It’s a huge motivation and validates my efforts to pursue impactful projects within clinical cancer research in the future.”

The award is also shared with Eva Blondeaux from the IRCCS Ospedale Policlinico San Martino in Genoa, for unconnected research, with each awarded 2,500 Euros.

Harkeran presented her results at the 14th European Breast Cancer Conference (EBCC) in Milan this week (March 21). 

Her study, which looked at 2,059 breast cancer patients from Europe and the US, highlighted discrepancies between Patient Reported Outcomes (PROs) following surgery and radiotherapy, compared to those reported by their clinicians. 

Harkeran explained: “Although patients were more likely to state they had pain or other issues associated with their treatment, this wasn’t necessarily noted by their clinicians at the same time period. Around 70 per cent of patients who undergo radiotherapy after breast surgery experience side-effects, including skin problems, swelling or shrinkage of the breast, and issues moving their arm and shoulder, as well as feeling tired or being sick.

“The study also highlighted some significant associations between certain side effects - breast shrinkage was associated with worsening Quality of Life (QoL) scores, worsening breast and arm symptom scores, as well as increased pain and fatigue. 

“In addition, the study confirmed that increasing the number of radiotherapy doses plays a significant role in exacerbating side effects. Patients who received fewer larger doses of radiotherapy reported a higher QoL.”

QoL is a score derived from a person’s perception of physical, psychological and social functioning.

Harkeran added: “There is increasing interest in patients’ self-reporting symptoms, functional status and quality of life to enhance their clinical care through symptom management.  

“PROs allow the patient’s experience to be a central part of clinical research, providing vital information about the impact of treatment and care and therefore allows a more holistic interpretation. 

“These results underscore the importance of considering both patient-reported and clinician-reported outcomes when evaluating the impact of breast cancer radiotherapy on long-term quality of life and enable us to make informed choices about appropriate treatment.”

Harkeran used data collected as part of REQUITE - an observational cohort study which recruited breast cancer patients across 18 centres in Europe and the US who underwent surgery and radiotherapy with and without chemotherapy.   

Her research was supervised by Professor Christopher Talbot, Professor of Radiotherapy Genetics, from the University of Leicester Department of Genetics and Genome Biology, and Dr Tim Rattay, Associate Professor in Breast Surgery at the University of Leicester Cancer Research Centre and Honorary Consultant Breast Surgeon at the Glenfield Hospital, who said: “This phenomenal award reflects the quality of Harkeran’s research and also recognises our group’s work in the clinical and genetic epidemiology of breast cancer treatment side-effects and survivorship.”

Professor Michail Ignatiadis from the Institut Jules Bordet in Brussels, Belgium, is Chair of the 14th European Breast Cancer Conference and congratulated Harkeran.

He said: “We established this award in order to reward young and mid-career investigators focusing on breast cancer research. Harkeran’s study is an outstanding example of carefully conducted research that stresses the importance of the patient reported outcomes on top of physician assessments when evaluating quality of life in women with breast cancer.”

Harkeran’s research is funded by the Wellcome Trust Doctoral Training Programme in Genomic Epidemiology and Public Health Genomics.