Interview with Lana Schwartz “Lovely Lady Lump”.

Lana Schwartz is a comedian using comedy to spread her lifesaving message for women to have a mammogram. Her show “Lovely Lady Lump” http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/entertainment/adelaide-fringe/comedy/adelaide-fringe-review-2017lana-schwarcz-lovely-lady-lump/news-story/4b25e66ce7f2189fb32bcda4cef48e85 received rave reviews at the recent Adelaide Fringe Festival and she featured in a Channel 10 clip https://www.facebook.com/tenadelaide/videos/1363036930427716/ involving a colleague of mine, Associate Professor Wendy Ingman, who leads informd (www.informd.org.au).

 Curious to know more about this remarkably brave woman who’s breast cancer diagnosis was confounded by high breast density, I asked Lana to do a quick “5/5” – five questions in five minutes session for my blog.

OK Lana, are you ready?

  1. “What is the funniest thing that has happened to you recently?”

I recently went swimming in Blairgowrie beach and as I stepped onto some rocks on the way back in, I thought “gee, they feel a little ‘pinch-y’. Then I thought, “you know, I think they also feel a little move-y”. I looked down to discover that they weren’t rocks, but a massive once yearly migration of thousands and thousands of spider crabs walking into the shallows to moult their shells. I mean, I didn’t know that at the time, all I knew was “OH MY GOD THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF CRABS! THOUSANDS! CRABS!!! I DON’T THINK YOU UNDERSTAND!!! THOUSANDS. OF. CRABS!!!! UNDER ME! AROUND ME! C.R.A.B.S!!!”

Needless to say, I had a small kiniption. Which is yiddish for “a minor (really major) freak out”.

Is that funny? I don’t know. More like a luck thing – just happened to be in the right place at the right time. But it’s all I’ve thought about in the last day.

 

  1. “You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be and why?”

Yellow! Because all kids draw massive yellow suns in their drawings and I know I’d be used the most and painted with a big happy smile on my face each time.

 

  1. “Why do you feel so strongly about women getting a mammogram?”

Because it saved my life. Literally. It CERTAINLY saved my breasts, that’s for sure. The lump was so deep and the tissue so dense (though I now know that density doesn’t contribute to how breasts feel) that even after the mammo and when we KNEW WHERE it was, it STILL wasn’t palpable. By the time we’d have been able to feel it, it’d be a completely different story – perhaps one without such a happy ending – after all, thanks to a very studious radiographer in 2014, I am healthy enough to step onto a migration of spider crabs in 2017.

I personally believe women with dense breasts should be given the choice to know.

Also, re: mammos – I KNOW that so many women are scared to be screened, because they’re scared they will find something. I can kind of understand that.

But what they don’t understand, is that finding something is a GOOD thing. Because they’ve found it. And if they find it, especially if they find it early, they can do something about it. If they DON’T find it, because you never went, THEN you’re screwed.

So…. go. get. screened.

 

  1.  “What would the title of your autobiography be?”

“Ginge”. Clearly.

 

  1. “This is my first experience being an interviewer, so as my first interviewee, what question should I have asked you?”

Haha! Gosh! Not sure. I get bored answering the same questions over and over, so actually, this was quite a good and different experience. Keep at it!

 

 

Honor Hugo, PhD

Honor.jpgHonor is a postdoctoral research fellow with over 5 years’ experience in breast cancer cell biology. Using cutting-edge technology, she is working to understand how high breast density contributes to increased breast cancer risk. This ambitious project supported by the TRI-spore Grant (Translational Research Institute) is in collaboration with medical physicists at the Queensland University of Technology and clinicians at various hospitals across Brisbane. Honor has also been supported by the National Breast Cancer Foundation and the Victorian Cancer Agency.

Honor is also a Lecturer in Molecular Pathology at the Queensland University of Technology, Gardens Point, Brisbane, QLD.

Breast in a dish

What if I were to tell you that scientists can keep human breast alive outside the body in a culture dish? Do images of Frankenstein’s monster pop into your head? Well we are learning more about the breast this way include some clues as to what makes up dense breast tissue.

The biggest problem is, a lot of scientific research has been done on cells alone – we take a patients tissue and distill it down into single cells and grow these cells practically forever in the lab. One famous cell line, HeLa, is from a patient Henrietta Lacks, who had cervical cancer in the 1950s. Cells like hers have helped us understand many cell-level processes but how do these cells behave when they are in the body?

This is a very important question, because although we are made up of cells, it is how these cells co-ordinate within their microenvironment that will provide answers to the bigger questions such as how do we cure cancer.

As you know, I work in the field of breast cancer research. Specifically, I am interested in Mammographic Density, also called breast density. I see it as a major problem facing current breast cancer screening programs worldwide, as it can drastically reduce the ability of mammograms to pick up cancer, if it is there. This is called masking and it increases the chance of getting breast cancer. But dense breast tissue can also make cancer grow better, but we don’t exactly know how.

That’s where the breast in a dish comes in. I am involved in this exciting work, where women are graciously providing us with a portion of their breast after surgery*. We do a mammogram on the breast slice and locate the high and low dense areas.

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Then we cut the tissue up into small pieces..

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..and put each piece on top of a small cube of sponge.

 

The sponge is sitting in the same media we use to grow single cells, with some extra goodies added in.

 

 

These pieces of breast, either high or low density, respond to chemical inhibitors in a different way.

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We can see that some chemicals are reducing the density, as shown above. These treatments have specific known targets, so their effect gives us some clues as to what proteins are important in maintaining breast density. This information might also help us understand why cancers grow so much better in this kind of tissue.

*This may be because the woman has an increased breast cancer risk (runs in her family, or has had prior breast cancers removed) and has chosen, with the advice of her surgeon, to have her breast removed, or she may be having her breasts reduced in size.