Researchers have developed a model to predict individual breast cancer risk that could be used to develop personalized breast screening strategies.
The research, presented today (Wednesday) at the 13th European Conference on Breast Cancer, could make breast screening programs more effective and ultimately improve survival rates.
It could also mean fewer people are affected ‘False alarm’ (when screening tests show cancer but other tests do not show cancer) and ‘overdiagnosis’ (when people are diagnosed and treated for a cancer that is growing extremely slowly and has not caused any problems during their lifetime.
The study used data from the Norwegian Cancer Registry (Oslo) and was a collaboration between researchers from the Norwegian Cancer Registry and the Medical Research Institute Hospital del Mar in Barcelona, Spain.
It was made by Dr. Javier Louro from Hospital del Mar presented. He said: “We know many of the factors that influence breast cancer risk. For example, aging, a family history of breast cancer, and some types of benign breast disease can increase your risk. There’s not much we can do about these risk factors, but we can use this information to predict breast cancer risk.”
The study included data from around 50,000 women who took part Breast Screen Norway between 2007 and 2020. Breast Screen Norway is a national program that invites all women ages 50 to 69 to have a mammogram (an X-ray of the breast) every two years. Breast screening programs can help improve survival rates by ensuring cancers are caught as early as possible.
The researchers used data on ten known risk factors to estimate an individual woman’s breast cancer risk over a four-year period. These included age, family history of breast cancer, prior benign breast disease, breast density (a measure of the glands and fibrous tissue in the breast), body mass index, and alcohol consumption. They compared these risk factors in women with and without a breast cancer diagnosis to assess the impact of each risk factor, develop the model, and verify that the model was correct overall.
They found that the risk of developing breast cancer over a four-year period ranged from 0.22% for some people to 7.43% for others, with an average (median) risk of 1.10%.
The research also showed that some factors were more important than previously thought, for example the protective effect of how many hours of exercise a woman gets per week. This is a factor that is not typically included in models used to predict breast cancer risk.