Most comprehensive way yet to predict breast cancer risk

It could be a game changer for breast cancer because now we can identify large numbers of women with different levels of risk – not just women who are at high risk.


Cambridge scientists have come up with a comprehensive method to predict a woman’s risk of breast cancer. They combined information on family history and other genetic factors such as weight, age at menopause, alcohol consumption and use of hormone replacement therapy.

Scientists noted, these things have a small impact on the likelihood of developing the disease. Considering all of them at once could help them determine groups of women with different risks of developing breast cancer.

Scientists, during the study, considered more than 300 genetic indicators for breast cancer. This makes calculating the risk much more precise than ever before. They then created an online calculator for GPs to use in their surgeries.

Professor Antonis Antoniou, a lead author at the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, said: “This is the first time that anyone has combined so many elements into one breast cancer prediction tool. It could be a game changer for breast cancer because now we can identify large numbers of women with different levels of risk – not just women who are at high risk.”

“This should help doctors to tailor the care they provide depending on their patients’ level of risk. For example, some women may need additional appointments with their doctor to discuss screening or prevention options and others may just need advice on their lifestyle and diet.”

“We hope this means more people can be diagnosed early and survive their disease for longer, but more research and trials are needed before we will fully understand how this could be used.”

Some GPs, practice nurses and genetic counselors are testing this tool before it is considered for wider use. Doctors are prompted to answer a series of online questions about their patient including their medical and family history, whether they have any known genetic alterations linked to cancer, their weight and whether they drink alcohol.

In the future, information like this could help to tailor breast cancer screening depending on an individual’s risk. For example, it could help determine what age they are first invited for breast screening or how regularly they are invited to receive it.

According to scientists, the calculation could additionally assist individuals with making choices about precaution treatment –, for example, recognizing ladies at high hazard who may profit by taking the medication tamoxifen – just as urging ladies to consider the manners in which they could diminish the hazard themselves, for instance attempting to keep a solid weight.

Dr. Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK’s GP expert, said: “Research like this is hugely exciting because in the future it will enable us to offer much more tailored care which will benefit patients and make the best use of the services that we have available.”

“Although having an increased risk of breast cancer means a woman is more likely to develop the disease – it’s by no means a certainty. A woman at high risk may never get breast cancer just as a woman at low risk still could. But any woman with concerns should speak to her GP to discuss the options.”

The study is published in the journal Genetics in Medicine.


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