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Screening all women over 30 for BRCA could prevent 64,000 cancers

22 January 2018

By Dr Molly Godfrey

Appeared in BioNews 934

The blanket screening of all women over 30 for genetic mutations which cause breast and, or ovarian cancer could prevent more cancers and be more cost-effective than current approaches, according to a new study.

Dr Rosa Legood at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and lead study author said: 'Our analysis shows that population testing for breast and ovarian cancer gene mutations is the most cost-effective strategy which can prevent these cancers in high-risk women and save lives. The study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

According to mathematical models developed by the researchers based at The Barts Cancer Institute and the LSHTM, a blanket screening approach would save lives, and be more cost-effective than the current strategy of screening only women with a personal or family history of cancer. They estimate that testing all women over 30 for faulty genes could result in up to 17,000 fewer ovarian cancers, and 64,000 fewer breast cancers in the UK.

Inherited mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can greatly increase chances of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer in a woman's lifetime. Women carrying either of these gene mutations have a 17-44 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer and a 69-72 percent chance of developing breast cancer, while women without the mutations have a 2 percent risk of ovarian cancer and 12 percent risk of breast cancer.

If the mutations are known about, preventative measures can be taken, including enhanced screening, risk-reducing mastectomies, removal of ovaries and preventative chemotherapies, which can drastically lower the chances of cancer developing.

However, some argue that caution needs to be applied when it comes to blanket screening populations; and that the risks of overtreatment and unnecessary distress should not be underestimated. Justine Alford, at Cancer Research UK, who was not involved with the study, told Sky News: 'If we're going around and screening all women who are above the age of 30 for these particular genes, these faulty genes, are we going to pick up women who have these particular genes but might not actually develop a disease as a result of these genes?'

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

15 January 2018 - by Hannah Somers 
A new study has found that BRCA gene mutations do not affect the survival rates of breast cancer patients under 40...
13 November 2017 - by Dr Loredana Guglielmi 
Researchers have introduced new criteria to screen for BRCA gene mutations that could prevent more than 10,000 cases of cancer and save more than 2000 lives in the next decade...
30 October 2017 - by Annabel Slater 
Two studies have discovered 72 new genetic variants associated with the risk of developing breast cancer...

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