At Prevent Breast Cancer, we’ve long been working towards understanding how we can offer women a tailored breast cancer screening programme that’s dependent on their personal risk of developing the disease – rather than the one-size-fits-all approach the current mammogram screening programme delivers.
The results of a trial led by Professor Gareth Evans, published today, have shown that annual screening detects breast cancers earlier for women with a family history aged between 35 and 39 – meaning that annual screening for these women would be highly effective in detecting tumours earlier.
The research, funded by Breast Cancer Now and led by Prof Evans at The University of Manchester, found that annual mammograms for these women detected cancers when they were significantly smaller and less likely to have spread to the lymph nodes than in an unscreened control cohort.
The trial saw 2,899 women aged between 35 and 39 with a moderate or high risk of breast cancer due to their family history offered annual screening across various UK centres between 2006 and 2015. 50 breast cancers were found (in 49 women), of which 35 were invasive tumours. 80 per cent of these invasive tumours were found when the cancer was 2cm or smaller in size – and only 20 per cent of cancers had spread to the lymph nodes.
By contrast, in unscreened women, just 45 per cent of breast cancers were detected when the tumour was 2cm or smaller, and 54 per cent had spread to the lymph nodes by the time of diagnosis.
Professor Evans has been working with Prevent Breast Cancer for many years to identify new ways of personalising the breast cancer screening process. This latest research is the latest to show that tailoring each woman’s journey can make a significant impact on the chances of finding cancers early.
Our pioneering PROCAS (Predicting the Risk of Cancer at Screening) trial combined lifestyle factors with the traditional mammogram to give women a more accurate breast cancer score. We’re now working on plans to also include breast density (the ratio of breast tissue to fat) and a genetic sequencing factor to give an even more accurate picture of risk. These genetic sequences – called SNPs – may account for as many as 50 per cent of hereditary breast cancers.
Professor Evans explains: “In order for us to be able to give women a truly accurate idea of their risk of developing breast cancer, it’s vital that we’re able to combine all our collective knowledge into one screening programme. By doing this, we can tailor the screening programme to allow low risk women to attend for mammograms far less frequently, thus removing all the anxiety that attending a mammogram can create. Conversely, women who are moderate or high risk can benefit from more regular screening as well as support from lifestyle teams to help them reduce their risk, helping us catch any cancers as early as possible and giving the women the best chance of survival.”
If you are concerned about your family history and your own risk of developing breast cancer, you can ask your GP to refer you to a family history clinic for further investigations. For any enquiries about Prevent Breast Cancer, our research and fundraising, please contact us.