Breast cancer research has made some major breakthroughsAshley Reed

Breast cancer research developments were brought to the fore over the past few weeks with the publication of an advanced algorithm, including new risk factors, for the early prediction of breast and ovarian cancer development. This is based on estimating the likelihood of having inherited two faulty genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) and the increased risk due to lifestyle choices, including alcohol consumption and the use of hormone replacement therapy medication.

With famous examples of celebrity publicity for smear tests and cervical cancer hitting headlines recently (Chloe Delevingne's story of abnormal cancer cells being detected at 21 years of age), this research highlights progress made in feminine health and cancer diagnosis, and may contribute to the UK’s growing reputation as a leading centre for cancer research. This research is being conducted under Breast Cancer Research UK and the University of Cambridge laboratory of Professor Antonis Antoniou. This could increase the number of early detection and treatment cases per year, currently 55,000 in the UK. Importing this online assessment to GP surgeries will increase the accessibility and support for patients in the UK.

A high proportion of women carrying mutations in the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes, combined with a family history of the disease, will go on to develop breast cancer. The impacts of this nationwide screening will enable people to determine whether they should seek testing much earlier, based on family patterns of previously detected cancers. However, Breast Cancer Now also states that much more screening and testing would be required before this algorithm for testing cancers could “alter NHS practice.”


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Professor Antoniou (speaking on behalf of the CanRisk Programme, Cambridge) said these risk predictors may be an important step towards preventive treatment, to increase current standards of practice in British doctor’s surgeries, commenting, “It could be a game changer for breast cancer because now we can identify large numbers of women with different levels of risk - not just women who are at high risk.” He added that the implications for changes in medical and treatment practice will come from this research and the widening availability of this risk assessment tool for patients and GPs, adding that “this [tool] should help doctors to tailor the care they provide depending on their patients' level of risk.”

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