10,000 women needed for trial that could revolutionise breast cancer treatment

ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan explains what the potentially ground-breaking study is all about

We may all know that survival rates from breast cancer in the UK are some of the worst in the developed world but it’s no less shocking each time we hear it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly America has the best rates at 90.2%, with the UK on 85.6%. Spain, Ireland and Austria lag behind but most nations are above 85%.

The key factor in surviving breast cancer is early diagnosis and every woman automatically gets invited for a breast screening from the age of 50. Mammograms are then offered every three years thereafter.

Credit: Nuffield Trust

But what if there was a test that could tell whether you’re predisposed to breast cancer way before your first screening? What if a simple saliva swab could be genetically tested to give you an indication of whether you are high or low risk?

Well, the answer to that is we could start to increase survival rates quite significantly.

This is not pie in the sky. Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge is leading an international trial in the UK to see whether this should be rolled out.

Fiona Gilbert, professor of radiology at the University of Cambridge and lead of the UK arm of the trial, explains how the study works:

Three NHS sites in the UK are trying to recruit 10,000 volunteers, aged between 40 and 70, to take part and the end result could be groundbreaking.

Each volunteer, after giving a saliva sample and some family history, will then be told whether they might be predisposed to breast cancer or not. If they’re high risk, they will be be given annual screenings.

The aim is to tailor care to individual needs to see whether it leads to better outcomes.

"God forbid, if I got cancer, it could be found in year one instead of year three"

Trial participant Eileen Hughes was initially "shocked" to discover she was high risk but feels assured that if she develops cancer, the signs will be spotted early

The good news is this isn’t a trial to test whether the genetic analysis works. We know it does.

It is simply to decide whether women would be up for giving a saliva sample, along with their screening and then, whether it is feasible to give tailored care to everyone.

When you think that nearly 100,000 women die of breast cancer a year, you can see the merits of this trial.

"By stratifying ladies, beyond their past medical history and their family history, we can tailor their mammograms to what their individual needs are" - Johanna Field-Rayner, clinical trials co-ordinator

Breast screening only saves the lives of around 1,300 each year so it’s hoped more regular mammograms for high-risk people will increase this figure.

We spoke to one of the participants in the UK, Eileen Hughes. She had mixed views about the trial, since she was told she was high risk.

That news was a shock but she is now very happy that she will now receive annual check ups and a much better chance of survival if something is found early on.

"How can we solve a problem before it is a problem?"

Trial participant Gill Elford talks about the impact the study will have on "our daughters and nieces"

Another, Gill Elford, is awaiting her results but nonetheless feels empowered by the fact she is being proactive about her health and hopes this will change the way her daughter and granddaughters will be looked after.

The good news is that 20,000 participants have signed up across Europe so far. The bad news is only 1,000 of those are in the UK.

Anyone interested in signing up can find information on the MyPeBS website here