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The rising incidence of breast cancer is a major clinical challenge in many parts of the world, including Africa. Recent advances in some countries demonstrate that breast cancer is often a treatable disease. In Europe, Japan, and the USA, breast cancer mortality has decreased significantly during the past 10 years due to a combination of screening/early detection and better treatment based on protocols that take into account the specific tumour characteristics (e.g. anti-hormone therapy, therapeutic modalities targeting activated HER-2 or angiogenesis).

Improved knowledge of clinical and pathological breast cancer profiles in Africa will have immediate clinical benefits by enabling clinicians to better select the most effective treatment options for African patients. A range of therapeutic options are now available for different types of breast cancer, including aggressive types; however, deciding on the most appropriate treatment protocol for a patient remains a challenge. The SABC study will help develop a protocol for dissemination of appropriate drugs and treatment. The study aims to transfer this new knowledge as quickly as possible from bench to bedside and to offer training to make sure that the use of such markers quickly becomes standard practice in the management of breast cancer in leading African centres.

A second benefit of the study will be a more in-depth understanding of the clinical context and the stage at which breast cancer is currently detected and diagnosed in Africa. Primary prevention is particularly important in African settings because tumours are often diagnosed at late stages. Identification of factors associated with women’s decisions to seek medical care for breast complaints will help identify obstacles to obtaining medical care at earlier stages of the disease. This will, in turn, enable public health officials to define screening strategies aiming to achieve breast cancer diagnosis at earlier stages and hence improve survival.

The long-term benefit of this research will be breast cancer prevention and early detection in highly susceptible subgroups. This will be possible through achieving the project’s aim of better understanding risk factors for breast cancer and, when possible, developing strategies to prevent future cases through targeted interventions for modifiable risk factors such as dietary habits and lifestyle. This approach will develop predictive models for different subtypes of breast cancer and disseminate information and education programmes about breast cancer awareness and early detection.