While surgery and treatments like increasingly sophisticated chemotherapy and radiotherapy have played a major role in improving the outcomes for cancer patients, the real silver bullet remains a therapy which prevents the disease occurring in the first instance. Now scientists at Queen's University's cancer research centre believe they have a way of stopping women carrying the rogue BRCA1 gene from developing breast or ovarian cancer.
At present the only preventative measure that women with the gene can take is to have a double mastectomy and their ovaries removed. Otherwise they stand a greatly increased risk of either breast or ovarian cancer. Obviously the loss of their breasts and ovaries is hugely traumatic for women, even if the surgery can save their lives. So they will be anxiously awaiting clinical trials of a new therapy to stop the rogue gene causing cancer.
The scientists feel the research is significant. They have found that there is a direct link between high levels of oestrogen and DNA damage which causes cancer in women with the BRCA1 gene. Their excitement is increased because there are drugs already on the market which reduce oestrogen production in women – raising the possibility that they can stop these cancers. This is another example of the tremendous work that is being done by cancer researchers at Queen's University. Since the reorganisation of cancer services some years ago and the establishment of a world-class research cluster, attracting some of the brightest brains in the field, there have been a number of exciting developments.
Northern Ireland is now recognised as being at the forefront of cancer research, not just in the UK, but in Europe and that is good news in the battle against a disease which is continuing to affect more and more people annually. In this instance, the day may not be too distant where women with the BRCA1 gene can rely on simple drug therapy instead of hugely invasive surgery which affects not only their self image but also their ability to have children. They and other survivors of the disease will offer a silent prayer to the Queen's research team.
Film festival is cinema at its thought-provoking best
Belfast Film Festival is cinema as you have never seen it before. Forget simple box office fodder that can be accessed any day of the year. Instead, think of classic movies; think of films that provoke and make you think rather than just entertain; think of topics that will never be explored in the mainstream world of Hollywood. All that and more will be available over the next nine days.
You will be able to view the movies in odd locations and hear live soundtracks and scores from cult productions. You will also see films from local producers and directors underlining the growing importance of the creative arts in the province. Best of all it is amazing value for an eclectic programme which would do credit to much more established events. Go along and be amazed.