Breast cancer screening could be tailored to match individual risk – study

Women are usually screened for breast cancer every three years between the ages of 50 and 70 Credit: Rui Vieira/PA

An improved breast cancer screening method could allow doctors to check women more or less often depending on their risk of developing the disease, new research suggests.

Using information collected from multiple techniques, researchers found they could accurately predict how likely an individual was to be diagnosed with breast cancer within the next 10 years.

The researchers said the method gives a “clearer picture” of breast cancer risk and means screening could be “tailored” to an individual.

The study, carried out by the University of Manchester, was published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

In the UK, women are usually screened every three years between the ages of 50 and 70, but some are offered checks more frequently if they have a family history of breast cancer.

“Screening and predicting a woman’s risk of breast cancer is largely based on standard risk factors, such as their age, weight, family history, and other characteristics,” Professor Gareth Evans, who led the research, said.

“This research shows that risk prediction is incrementally improved as you combine these factors with information on their breast density, and common genetic variations many of us carry that are known to increase risk.

“This combined method gives women a much clearer picture on how likely they are to develop breast cancer, possible treatments to reduce their risk, and if it does develop, how likely it will respond to different treatments.”

Breast cancer risk is currently predicted using the Tyrer-Cuzick model, which analyses factors which can increase the likelihood of developing the disease.

The researchers found combining this method, with genetic testing and measurements of breast density was effective at detecting whether women were at a low, average, above average or moderate to high risk of developing breast cancer within the next decade.

This information could help doctors offer women at above average risk more regular screening, as well as preventative treatments such as medication or surgery.

They could also reduce screening in low-risk groups, which would reduce over-diagnosis and over-treatment, the authors said.

Nikki Barraclough, executive director at charity Prevent Breast Cancer, which funded the study, said: “The groundbreaking research being carried out by Professor Gareth Evans demonstrates how breast screening can be tailored to each woman, and suggests that screening frequency could potentially be altered to match a person’s risk.

“This research allows us to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach, to one that more accurately predicts a woman’s likelihood of developing breast cancer, based on a variety of risk factors such as DNA, breast density, family history and lifestyle factors.

“The new findings of this study show that by using a combination of techniques we can gain a better understanding of a woman’s risk, and this in turn could have implications as to the way we currently screen people.”