The brilliant Lester Barr MBE, founder and Honorary Chairman of Prevent Breast Cancer recently took to the stage at TEDx Warrington, opening his talk with the powerful premise of imagining a world where breast cancer had become a thing of the past, and how it might one day be possible to prevent breast cancer for future generations.

Lester explained how as a young surgeon, it felt like he was on a production line, with a never-ending conveyer belt of women being diagnosed with breast cancer. Real people whose lives had been turned upside down. His vision was to stop people getting on the conveyer belt in the first place, but was that dream too ambitious?

Working Out Your Breast Cancer Risk

Lester clarifies that no one can make themselves immune to breast cancer, as there’s no one simple thing that causes the disease – it’s a combination of factors – it’s multifactorial. We do however have tools to ‘mess with this breast cancer conveyer belt’.

He then dissected breast cancer risk factors, starting with genetics, including twelve inherited genes that cause breast cancer to run in families. He explained how if it’s in your genes, it is possible to do something about it, either through intensive screening or preventative surgery, and how three prevention drugs are available. He also explains SNPs, which give an underlying genetic pre-disposition, but aren’t inherited, and how women with dense breasts have a higher risk of breast cancer.

Lester then discussed risk factors that you are able control to lower your risk, including weight, and those you can’t control, such as the age you start the menopause.

He then explains how by using an algorithm, you can predict your breast cancer risk surprisingly well, taking all different risk factors to account.

Furthermore, he touched on environmental risks, including preservatives and pesticides. He concluded there’s no direct evidence they cause breast cancer, and so they’re labelled as having an unclear impact.

What is Lester’s vision?

PREDICT – We’re getting very good at personal risk predictions. We’ve got gene testing, but why don’t we gene test everyone, why don’t we give everyone at personal risk a prediction when they’re younger?

PREVENT – We have ways of preventing breast cancer for example, preventative surgery. We have prevention medication, with new prevention medication in the pipeline. We know we can make lifestyle changes.

PROTECT – We need to protect the whole population with an up-to-date screening programme. We need to make the current one more effective and more personalised by tailoring the amount of screening you receive to the level of risk you have and we need to start at a much younger age. We do have new technologies for early detection on the horizon and not just having to rely on mammography alone.

In Summary

Lester concluded his thought-provoking talk with amplifying that when it comes to breast cancer, prevention is a much better strategy and a much better vision for the future:

It’s achievable.

Yes, it’s an ambitious dream but we already have many of the tools available. What’s needed now is a much-needed commitment and investment into prevention from us as researchers… from the Government…from us all.

Together we can make the dream of preventing breast cancer a reality.

You can watch Lester’s inspirational talk online.

Published On: February 14th, 2024 /

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About Prevent Breast Cancer

Prevent Breast Cancer is the only UK charity entirely dedicated to the prediction and prevention of breast cancer – we’re committed to freeing the world from the disease altogether. Unlike many cancer charities, we’re focused on preventing, rather than curing. Promoting early diagnosis, screening and lifestyle changes, we believe we can stop the problem before it starts. And being situated at the only breast cancer prevention centre in the UK, we’re right at the front-line in the fight against the disease. Join us today and help us create a future free from breast cancer. If you have any questions or concerns, email us today.