Find out more about Dr Cliona Kirwan, chair of Prevent Breast Cancer’s scientific advisory board
Dr Cliona Kirwan is one of our research scientists, the chair of our scientific advisory board and a member of our medical advisory board. She’s also part of the consultant breast team at Wythenshawe Hospital, seeing patients and performing surgery, so she’s certainly a very busy woman! We did, however, manage to catch five minutes with Cliona to find out all about the research she’s doing at the moment and just why it’s such a crucial part of our mission to create a breast cancer-free future.
Hi Cliona! So, what type of research do you carry out at Prevent Breast Cancer?
My primary research area is studying how the clotting system helps cancer grow and spread. I am investigating whether anti-clotting drugs have anti-cancer effects. In the laboratory, my team are doing experiments to see how the clotting system helps breast cancer start growing. This is with the aim of finding out whether we can stop breast cancer developing by attacking the clotting system. In patients, I am studying whether the levels of clotting in the blood or in breast cancers can act as predictors of how aggressive or advanced the breast cancer is.
I also do research into patient satisfaction following breast surgery, particularly breast reconstruction, so that we can better inform patients as to what to expect following surgery.
What are the particular areas you’re looking into at the moment? How might this eventually help with breast cancer prediction and prevention?
My most exciting area of research at the moment is looking at how over-active clotting may be causing changes in breast tissue that might help cancer develop.
What fascinates you so much about this?
This is a very novel area of research. However, what’s particularly exciting about it is that we already have lots of excellent anti-clotting drugs that are in routine use. If these can be repurposed to target breast cancer, we will have easy access to a new type of treatment. First, though, we need to know whether anti-clotting drugs do have an anti-cancer effect, and then we need to know whether the risks of taking the anti-clotting drugs are worth the benefits.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
I am very lucky because I spend half my time doing clinical work (seeing people in clinic and performing breast cancer surgery, including reconstruction) and half my time doing research. In my clinical work, I’m able to get ideas from my patients about areas that we need to research and I can also invite my patients to take part in studies. And then in my research, I get to see if my theories have any value, and I get to train new medical students, doctors, breast surgeons and scientists in research skills.
Have you had any particular career highlights?
I think it’s about to happen! This year, I am presenting eight new pieces of research at the largest conference in the world dedicated to research in cancer and thrombosis. It’s called the International Conference on Thrombosis and Haemostasis Issues in Cancer and takes place in April in Bergamo, Italy.
If you weren’t in this profession, what would you be doing?
I love sewing, design and craftwork, so I think I would have a business ‘upcycling’ and redesigning old clothes. But my business would definitely be biased to bright colours!
What would be your main message to women – and men – to help them reduce their risk of getting breast cancer?