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'Game-changing' way to identify breast cancer risk

16 January 2019 08:20

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK

A new way to predict a woman's risk of breast cancer has been unveiled by scientists - and it's the most comprehensive method yet.

By examining genetic and lifestyle factors together, the potentially "game-changing" innovation could help doctors identify those at the highest and lowest risk.

Those found to have the highest risk can then be given preventative treatments and offered more screening.

Nearly 55,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and Cancer Research UK says a large proportion of those cases occur in women with an increased risk.

Risk calculation

Led by researchers at the University of Cambridge, the risk factor study has produced an online calculator for GPs to use in their surgeries that is currently undergoing testing.

Professor Antonis Antoniou, lead author at the university's Department of Public Health and Primary Care, 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."

The system combines information on family history and genetics with other factors such as weight, age at menopause, alcohol consumption and use of hormone replacement therapy.

More than 300 genetic indicators for breast cancer are taken into account, making risk calculation much more precise than ever before.

Prof Antoniou added: "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."

'Hugely exciting'

Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK's GP expert, said the study was "hugely exciting" because it may eventually enable doctors to offer much more tailored care, benefiting patients and health providers.

But he added: "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."

If you're living with breast cancer and looking for travel cover, check out our dedicated breast cancer travel insurance options for peace of mind.