Dr. Lorraine Lipscombe works as a research scientist at the Women's College Research Institute (WCRI) in Toronto as part of the Women's Cancer Survivorship Team. Her path to this position began when she was an undergraduate student studying psychology at Concordia University in Montreal, where she became interested in the role of reproductive hormones. After completing medical school at McGill University, Lipscombe completed two residencies, one in internal medicine and another in endocrinology.
In 2002, Lipscombe was introduced to the work of oncologist Dr. Pamela Goodwin, of the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital, who was studying the impact of insulin in women with breast cancer. She became very interested in the link between diabetes and breast cancer and is pursuing research into the subject. "My main research question is why do women with diabetes fare worse when diagnosed with breast cancer than those women who do not have diabetes?" says Lipscombe. Her research into this area will be funded by OICR through its Health Services Research Program.
Lipscombe hopes that the application of personalized medicine will help patients with both breast cancer and diabetes, "if we can tailor treatments to take into account a patient's diabetes we may be able to improve their prognosis," she says.
According to Lipscombe, women with diabetes may need different treatments for breast cancer due to the effects of diabetes on their hormones. She also hypothesizes that diabetes on its own could be behind the poor outcomes for women with both diseases. "Looking at what we know so far, I believe that both breast cancer and diabetes treatments may need to be modified to provide the best outcome," says Lipscombe. Another challenge facing women with diabetes is that they often experience more side effects during treatment for breast cancer than other women.
Lipscombe is also examining if women with diabetes are screened for breast cancer less often because the focus of their health is on controlling their existing condition. "If we can ensure that women with diabetes are being screened as often as other women we could diagnose breast cancer in its earlier stages, which would result in a better prognosis," says Lipscombe.
Looking at cancer in a broader sense, Lipscombe acknowledges that the treatment of cancer has advanced significantly, particularly in breast, prostate and thyroid cancers, and now "we must turn to the issue of long-term survivorship and the consequences of diagnosis experienced by patients." Lipscombe will be looking into this issue as part of a team led by Dr. Paula Rochon at WCRI conducting a breast cancer survivorship study that is funded by OICR.
The importance of health services research such as Lipscombe's is on the rise and she is thrilled to be conducting such research in Ontario. "Ontario is a highprofile and internationally respected jurisdiction in health services research. We have good access to data and great researchers to mentor new students in the field."
"If we can tailor treatments to take into account a patient's diabetes we may be able to improve their prognosis."