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Risk testing during national breast screening could halve cancer rates

5 September 2011
Appeared in BioNews 623

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.

New blood test could ward off breast cancer
Sunday Express |  4 September 2011
26 March 2012 - by Sarah Pritchard 
A genetic test could be used to spare breast cancer patients from having to undergo postoperative chemotherapy...
15 August 2011 - by Dr Maria Teresa Esposito 
Scientists have discovered a rare genetic fault that raises a woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer six-fold. It has been hailed as the most important discovery in the field in the last ten years, and offers hope for new treatments...
6 June 2011 - by Dr Rachael Panizzo 
Scientists have identified a set of 15 genes that are associated with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), an aggressive form of the disease that does not respond to the drugs commonly used to treat other types of breast cancer...
16 May 2011 - by Dr Kimberley Bryon-Dodd 
Screening for breast and prostate cancer based on genetic risk factors as well as age could reduce the number of people screened without a significant reduction in the number of cancers detected, a new study suggests....
16 May 2011 - by Dr Jay Stone 
US scientists have designed a genetic test which could predict how a patient with breast cancer responds to chemotherapy. Researchers say the test, which works for those with certain newly diagnosed forms of cancer, could help women avoid unnecessary chemotherapy....
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