One of the four pillars of research at Prevent Breast Cancer is genetic research, studying how our genes affect our chances of developing breast cancer. Over the past few years, our charity’s research team has been focusing on small gene fragments – Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (or SNPs – pronounced “snips”) – which have been linked to a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.
Recently, the results of research led by Professor Gareth Evans and funded by Prevent Breast Cancer were published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, proving that SNPs are a valid predictor of the risk of developing the disease. The research project previously uncovered 150 SNPs that could be linked to breast cancer risk, but recent findings have shown that there are 313 fragments that can be used to calculate the risk of developing breast cancer.
The current study, SNPs 3, is examining whether the NHS could potentially test women for their SNPs when they attend their first breast screening exam, so that they would be able to be categorised as having a low, moderate or high risk of developing breast cancer. It’s part of our wider research study, PROCAS (Predicting the Risk of Cancer at Screening), which aims to gather a personalised risk score for women, based on lifestyle factors, mammogram results, breast density and SNPs.
At the moment, breast screening is a one-size-fits-all approach, despite research proving that, due to lifestyle and genetic factors, some women are more predisposed to developing breast cancer than others. By taking into account factors such as lifestyle and SNPs, breast screening can be tailored accordingly. For example, a woman with a lower risk score would be able to attend mammograms less frequently, whereas women with moderate or high-risk scores could be offered more regular screening, as well as lifestyle support to help them to lower their risk.
Catching breast cancer earlier increases the chance of survival, so we’re dedicated to changing the process for breast cancer screening. If you’re concerned about your genetic risk of developing breast cancer, speak to your GP about referring you to a family history clinic. To help us keep funding our groundbreaking genetic research, you can donate directly to our research projects.