Detecting early biochemical changes to breast tissue in women at high risk of breast cancer 

Experienced radiographer Natali Naude has commenced a PhD project using Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy to detect early biochemical changes in the breast tissue of women who are at high risk of breast cancer - to help inform decisions on how to manage their risk.

A family history of breast cancer is known to significantly increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer during their lifetime.

Current methods of screening and diagnosis of breast cancer include ultrasound, mammography, and MRI with contrast - however, these are unable to reliably distinguish between benign and malignant breast tissue, without the use of biopsy. With its high specificity, biopsy is considered the gold standard for breast cancer diagnosis. However, this invasive procedure can involve pain and discomfort and also has a false-negative rate of over two per cent.

There is a need for a more informative and non-invasive method to assess breast tissue status.

Breast magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) is emerging as a powerful analytical tool that allows for the exploration of cellular chemistry of human tissues

Compared to healthy tissue, cancer tissue has been shown to exhibit altered metabolism. Research led by TRI CEO and Director of Research Professor Carolyn Mountford has demonstrated biochemical changes in breast tissue chemistry using MRS. Recently published in ‘Radiology’, the research showed that the breast chemistry of women with a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation was different, with a range of lipid and metabolic alterations demonstrated. These findings form the basis of current work, which is assessing the chemistry of women at high risk of developing breast cancer, in order to detect deregulation prior to disease manifestation.    

This work forms part of Natali Naude's PhD project, which is using 2D COSY to compare various lipid and metabolite levels in women at high risk with those at average risk of developing breast cancer. The method may help to inform decisions on how to manage breast cancer risk.

Progress to date

Since commencing the project in late 2017, Natali has progressed with optimising signal quality of MRS acquisition, and has scanned over one hundred patients at the PA hospital.  

In addition, Natali has visited collaborators at Erlangen University Hospital in Germany, and trained several of their radiographers in the application of this technique. Once established, the site will generate scan data from their own patients as part of the current study. 

Do you have a family history of breast cancer, a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, or want to help those at risk? Interested in participating in this study? Email [email protected]


The new High Risk Breast Clinic has opened at the Princess Alexandra Hospital - stay tuned for more information!

Project supervisors: Natali’s PhD project is supervised by Professor Carolyn Mountford, Professor Graham Galloway and Professor Peter Malycha at the TRI, and Professor Lyn Griffiths from the Institute of Health Biomedical Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Collaborators: This project involves a collaboration with clinicians and surgeons at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, including radiologists Dr Gorane Santamaria and Dr Thomas Lloyd, and breast surgeon Dr Ian Bennett.

Picture: Natali Naude at the Siemens 3Tesla Prisma MRI.