In Brief

Breast cancer calculator: how it works

‘Game-changing’ system analyses genetics and lifestyle factors to calculate overall risk

A groundbreaking new system that can predict the extent to which a patient is at risk of breast cancer may soon be available in GP surgeries.

According to a study by Cancer Research UK, researchers have created an online calculator that takes into account more than 300 genetic indicators for the disease, alongside factors including the patient’s weight, age at menopause, alcohol consumption, use of hormone replacement therapy and hereditary factors.

Although these individual factors are not indicators of high breast cancer risk, experts say that combining this information with genetic data can give the most comprehensive assessment possible.

Sky News reports that the method - outlined in a paper published in Nature’s Genetics in Medicine journal - is currently being tested by some GPs, practice nurses and genetic counsellors.

“It is hoped it will allow doctors to tailor screening for specific individuals depending on risk,” the broadcaster adds. “For example, it could indicate when a patient should be first called for screening and how often.”

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with almost 55,000 women diagnosed each year, many of whom have exhibited genetic and lifestyle factors that might indicate an increased risk.

“Although individually some of these things have a small impact on the likelihood of developing the disease, researchers found that by considering all of them at once, plus family history and genetics, they can identify groups of women who have different risks of developing breast cancer,” reports the EurekAlert! science news site.

Professor Antonis Antoniou, lead author of the research at the University of Cambridge, 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.”

He added that while more research and trials are needed, “we hope this means more people can be diagnosed early and survive their disease for longer”.

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