UK women at high risk of breast cancer could halve their chances of developing the disease with genetic risk testing during routine NHS screening. This news came from PROCAS (Predicting the Risk of Cancer at Screening) - the world's first study into giving genetic risk and prevention advice in a national breast screening programme, and was reported in the Sunday Express.
The one percent of UK women at highest risk could enrol on a preventative drug or dietary programme, which could include anti-cancer drugs like tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors, said Professor Gareth Evans from the University of Manchester who heads up PROCAS.
'We know if you take tamoxifen can reduce your risk by 40 percent. If you take an aromatase inhibitor, it can reduce your risk by 50 – 60 percent', Professor Evans said.
Professor Evans is using a computer programme and DNA testing to calculate the breast cancer risk of 60,000 women registered on the NHS Breast Screening Programme in Manchester. Women at low and high risk are offered a telephone or face-to-face consultation, and a place on a preventative programme.
Around 20 percent of the high-risk Manchester women Professor Evans and his colleague have spoken to so far have chosen to enrol. 'There is an appetite in those women to do something positive', Professor Evans said.
Professor Evans said PROCAS shows risk testing requires little staff time and could become routine in breast cancer screening within five to ten years. Women would be risk assessed once - when they come for their first mammogram.
'There are two clinicians doing this for the whole 2.5 million population of Greater Manchester for half a day a week each', he said. 'It's not onerous'.
The team run a DNA test and collect information during routine screening about height, weight now and at 18, family history, and age of first period, pregnancy and menopause.
PROCAS will recruit women until 2012. Around 30,000 have been recruited so far and about 95 percent of the women indicated they wanted to know their risk.
Professor Gareth Evans' comments came in advance of his talk at the annual BSHG (British Society of Human Genetics) conference held at the University of Warwick from 5 to 7 September 2011.