Philanthropy fuels cutting-edge progress against breast cancer Skip to main content
Philanthropy fuels cutting-edge progress against breast cancer at The Princess Margaret
Dr. Tulin Cil, Gattuso Chair in Breast Surgical Oncology at UHN’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, performing Canada’s first robotic-assisted nipple-sparing mastectomy. Photo: UHN

Every day, 75 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Canada. It remains the number one cancer affecting Canadian women. October is a time to recognize those affected by breast cancer and raise awareness about the impact of the disease. It’s also a time to celebrate the tremendous progress that has been made in the efforts to conquer the disease. 

As a world-class leader in cancer research and care, some of the best and brightest minds in the field of breast cancer research call The Princess Margaret home, and they continue to keep us at the forefront of progress. Thanks to the generous investments of our donors, we’re leading novel and exciting research that not only enhances our understanding of its causes and triggers, but also evolves types of detection and treatment options for patients.  

And it’s making a difference. Today, the five-year survival rate for Canadian women with breast cancer is 88%, an increase of nearly 50% since death rates peaked in 1986.   

Here are only a handful of the exciting milestones, including some of the country’s firsts, that we’ve achieved to date, thanks to the continued support of our community: 

We discovered an important risk factor to catch breast cancer earlier. 
In 2007, Dr. Norman Boyd– principal investigator at the time with The Campbell Family Institute for Breast Cancer Research at The Princess Margaret –identified the number one risk factor for breast cancer: breast density. Through an eight-year study, Dr. Boyd discovered the risk of developing the disease is five times greater in women with extensive dense tissue in the breast and that dense breast tissue makes cancers more difficult to see in a mammogram. This discovery has been crucial in detecting risks of breast cancers earlier in women across Canada and around the world. 

We pioneered same-day breast cancer diagnosis to eliminate wait times. 
In 2009, The Princess Margaret launched the Gattuso Rapid Diagnostic Centre (GRDC), the country’s first centre to assess and diagnose breast cancer within 24 hours or less. Prior to the centre, the average wait time for a person to receive a breast cancer diagnosis was 37 days and often involved a series of tests and clinic visits. The GRDC revolutionized the field, introducing a ‘one-stop’ model, where patients could receive a breast exam, mammogram, biopsy and diagnosis, all in a single day and in one single location -- helping to catch cancers earlier and minimizing the stress and anxiety that patients endure waiting for their results. Today, the GRDC continues to optimize its processes to ensure that every patient receives exceptional care with minimal waiting.  

We are harnessing technology to deliver more precise, efficient breast cancer treatments. 
Dr. Tulin Cil, Gattuso Chair in Breast Surgical Oncology at The Princess Margaret (UHN), and her surgical team at The Sprott Department of Surgery at Toronto General Hospital conducted the first Canadian clinical trial of a robotic-assisted nipple-sparing mastectomy in 2020. The state-of-the-art surgery enhances a surgeon’s view and provides more precise access to the entire breast tissue that needs to be removed. This new form of treatment offers the potential to reduce mastectomy complication rates to less than 1% compared to the 10-20% complication rate seen in the standard open nipple-sparing mastectomy. 

We are reimagining the breast cancer biopsy, minimizing pain for women everywhere. 
Dr. Alexandra Easson, Surgical Oncologist at The Princess Margaret, and Dr. Alexandre Douplik, Professor of Medical Physics at Ryerson University, pioneered the development of a biopsy that allows a physician to observe a suspected tumour by using a thin micro endoscopy needle with a micro camera function at the tip. Along with eliminating the pain that may come with removing tissue or cell samples during a traditional biopsy, the minimally invasive procedure offers the potential to reduce wait times for diagnosis and increase accessibility as screenings could take place at offsite ambulatory or clinic settings once the micro endoscopy needle undergoes the final testing stages.  

The Princess Margaret is making remarkable progress against breast cancer, and with your support, we can continue to improve the cancer experience and patient outcomes for women across Canada and around the world.