If a new development worked out by British scientists and researchers comes to fruition, working out the personal risk factor for breast cancer could become a lot easier for the medical community – meaning that women could potentially consult their GPs or choose to see specialists at a private breast cancer clinic such as Thames Breast Clinic, discover their chances of contracting breast cancer, and decide whether or not to be screened.
The research team, working under the umbrella of Cancer Research UK, have deduced a method which assesses a woman’s chances of developing the disease by harnessing their genetic data and the lifestyle risks they take. The goal is to offer a ‘reasonably good’ cancer prediction, by combining family history and genetics with factors such as weight, age at menopause, alcohol consumption and use of hormone replacement therapy.
It all adds up
The thinking behind this is while we know which lifestyle choices create the risks of breast cancer, we also know that most of them aren’t a prime culprit, and that the effect of a collection of risky choices may be the key factor. And while we’re aware that two inherited genes in particular – BRCA1 and BRCA2 – increase the chances of breast cancer, we also know that there are many other genes – up to 300 of them – that are now also thought to play a small part, and their slighter impacts could be the difference which triggers breast cancer.
“This is the first time that anyone has combined so many elements into one breast cancer prediction tool,” said Professor Antonis Antoniou, the lead author of the research at the University of Cambridge. “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.”
A more bespoke service
According to Professor Antoniou, the calculator would be able to help medical community to provide a more bespoke level of care which would be tailored towards a patient’s level of risk: while some women will be given additional appointments with their doctor to discuss screening or prevention options, others can be given advice on their lifestyle and diet.
The knock-on effect of this is obvious: for patients, it could spell an earlier identification of breast cancer, giving women a better chance of treating it. For the medical community, it could be the beginning of less unnecessary screenings, resulting in a huge saving for the NHS.
Although the idea of a breast cancer calculator is still in its infancy, the researchers – who have published a paper in the journal Genetics in Medicine – hope that some practices will give it a try this year. As the research team points out, a large section of the 55,000 breast cancers diagnosed each year in the NHS have been in women at increased risk of the disease. If the calculator works as well as the researchers hope, it could lead to more of those at risk being identified early, when they could be successfully treated either by the NHS or at a private breast cancer clinic.