Metastatic breast cancer cells in pleural fluid
Metastatic Breast Cancer in Pleural Fluid 945×532

Metastatic breast cancer cells in pleural fluid. Image from flickr user euthman. CC-BY 2.0

Scientists funded by Breast Cancer Now and Cancer Research UK have demonstrated a more accurate method to assess a woman’s familial risk of breast cancer, which could one day be added to existing models to help better predict an individual’s overall risk of breast cancer.

In a new analysis of 103,738 women from the Breast Cancer Now Generations Study, published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, researchers have shown that the Family History Score (FHS) – applied to breast cancer incidence for the first time – can better determine a woman’s breast cancer risk due to her family history than existing methods, such as assessing the number of relatives diagnosed with breast cancer, the type of relative diagnosed and their age(s) at diagnosis.

The new approach takes into account both the actual number of breast cancer cases in a woman’s first degree relatives and the expected number given the family’s size and age-structure. If validated in further datasets and brought into clinics, this new method could see women being told more accurately of their risk of developing breast cancer, leading them to make more informed decisions about managing and reducing their risk.

Family history is an important breast cancer risk factor, and one that can cause considerable anxiety to women. About 10% of breast cancers are related to family history, and women with a family history are more likely to develop breast cancer and at a younger age.

GPs are able to refer those deemed to have an increased risk of breast cancer to a genetics clinic or family history clinic for specialist care, where advice and support is offered to help both reduce the risk of breast cancer developing and make sure the disease is spotted early if it does occur.

As part of our research into hormone receptor-positive breast cancer we are developing a new breast cancer modelling facility which will let us fast-track new treatments to the patients who need them now.

Predicting risk more precisely

In new research, scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London demonstrated that assessing family history not only by cases in the family but also in the context of their family size and age structure can offer a more accurate prediction of risk. For example, someone with many older women in her family would be expected to have more breast cancers in her family than a woman with a smaller, younger family, which needs to be taken into account.

The new method also provides a more precise risk figure by giving a score on a continuum, rather than in two or three categories of risk, and could potentially…

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