GPs could use breast cancer ‘calculator’ to predict risk to women

Scientists devise method using genetic data and lifestyle to work out who should be screened

Women may be able to go to their GP to find out their risk of getting breast cancer and choose whether or not to be screened, if a new online calculator devised by scientists is successful.

Cancer Research UK scientists have worked out a way to assess women’s chances of developing the disease on the basis of both genetic data and lifestyle risks. They hope to offer a reasonably good prediction 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.

Many lifestyle risk factors for breast cancer are known, but each one individually often does not add up to much. The cumulative effect, however, may be much more significant. The same applies to genes. Two inherited faulty genes – BRCA1 and BRCA2 – give women a 50% chance of breast cancer. But there are many other genes that are now thought to play a small part. The researchers, for their risk assessment, have taken into account 300 different genes that could be identified.

“This is the first time that anyone has combined so many elements into one breast cancer prediction tool,” said Prof Antonis Antoniou, the lead author of the research at the University of Cambridge.

He added: “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.”

The researchers, who have published a paper in the journal Genetics in Medicine, have been hoping that a few GP practices would try out the risk assessment tool later this year.

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