University of Cambridge researchers have compiled a comprehensive approach to predict a woman’s risk of breast cancer. The method calculates the likelihood of developing the disease by combining information on family history and genetics with other factors such as weight, age at menopause, alcohol consumption and use of hormone replacement therapy.
Individually, each of these factors has quite a small chance of leading to cancer, but the team established that by considering all of them at once, plus family history and genetics, they can evaluate with enough reliability different levels of risk for groups of women. By taking into account more than 300 genetic indicators, assessments became more precise than ever.
“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”, explained lead author Antonis Antoniou, Professor at the Department of Public Health and Primary Care.
The approach is currently being tested by GPs, practice nurses and genetic counselors while at the same time compiling information about their patients. These databases could help tailor breast cancer screenings depending on an individual’s risk.
Furthermore, the method may advise people to make better decisions about preventative therapies. It could identify women with a high risk who may benefit from taking certain drugs (like Tamoxifen), or encourage others to find ways of reducing the risk themselves.
“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”, added Dr. Antoniou.
Breast cancer remains the second most common form of malignancy in the world, with approximately 2 million cases each year. In the United States it is estimated that one in eight women will develop the disease over the course of their lifetime. With early detection, survival rates are about 90%, but they can decrease dramatically the longer the disease goes unchecked. This method could not only predict a patient’s risk much sooner, but also help find the best treatment course to ensure a positive outcome.
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