Women in Cheshire urged to take part in revolutionary breast cancer study
Researchers based at Wythenshawe Hospital are inviting a number of women from across the North West to be part of a new study that could help to revolutionise breast screening in the UK. The specialist team is urging women who have received an invite letter to come forward and be part of the pioneering research.
The vital research will test, in a live clinical setting, the hospital’s BC-Predict risk assessment tool – a ground-breaking online system that estimates a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years through an in-depth questionnaire that assesses a number of risk factors. The images taken from a recent breast screening mammogram will be used to measure breast density, an important predictor of breast cancer risk, and this will be included in a risk estimate along with the information collected from the questionnaire.
The test comes ahead of a large-scale research study involving Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and East Cheshire Breast Screening Programmes. The BC-Predict tool will be used as part of the study to determine whether the breast cancer screening service should be changed so that it includes a personal assessment of breast cancer risk for each woman invited for breast screening.
Currently around one in nine women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. However, if it’s detected early, treatment is more successful and there’s a better chance of cure. The ultimate aim of this research is to develop methods of identifying which women are at risk of developing breast cancer, so that they are then able to be offered preventative interventions to stop the disease from ever occurring.
Nikki Barraclough is executive director of Prevent Breast Cancer, which is part-funding the study and is the only UK breast cancer charity completely dedicated to researching how to predict, prevent and protect future generations from developing breast cancer. She commented: “At the moment, all women aged from 50 to 70, who are registered with a GP (or known to the NHS) are automatically invited for breast cancer screening. However, the risk of getting breast cancer is not the same for all women, and that’s why this type of study is so vitally important in helping to shape future services. Those women invited to take part could, quite literally, be helping to make history.
“We know from our previous research (PROCAS-1) that it’s possible to accurately estimate breast cancer risk in women attending breast screening, by looking at the most important breast cancer risk factors and analysing mammograms to assess breast tissue density – an important predictor of breast cancer risk.”
Predicting Risk Of Cancer At Screening 1 (PROCAS-1), carried out in 2009, recruited 57,900 women from across Greater Manchester to answer questions about their family history and lifestyle ahead of their routine breast screening appointments.
Scientists were then able to calculate a ‘risk score’ based on this information together with their breast density – ratio of breast tissue to fat tissue. Depending on their risk level, women were offered risk-reducing measures, including more frequent mammograms, diet and lifestyle advice and, for those found to have a particularly high risk, preventative drugs or surgery.
PROCAS-1 found that, while three-yearly screening intervals are appropriate for the majority of women, approximately one third of women are at higher risk of developing cancer and might benefit from more frequent mammograms.
Professor Gareth Evans, BC-Predict chief investigator, said: “The research we’re now undertaking is of vital importance, as the BC-Predict tool is an essential element of the wider research being conducted within the field of breast cancer research.
“Women who receive an invite letter from the hospital and opt to take part, will be asked to read and complete a BC-Predict risk assessment questionnaire, which they can do from the comfort of their own home, on a computer, tablet or smartphone. A mammogram will also be carried out in order to understand breast density, which ultimately impacts breast cancer risk.
“We’ll then use this information to calculate their individual risk of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years, and send them information on their risk in the post, along with advice on ways of reducing it. All women participating in the study will also have the opportunity to speak with the study team to discuss their feedback.”
Nikki Barraclough added: “Breast cancer is something that affects many women, and so many people’s lives – whether directly or indirectly, through family, friends and work colleagues. And it’s for this very reason we’re urging women across the North West to take part in the current BC-Predict test.
“By simply completing a questionnaire, and having a mammogram, they’ll be helping us to accurately test the system and increase our current understanding of risk, which will no doubt help countless people, both now and in the future.
“Ultimately, by giving women their breast cancer risk and signposting them to available services, we hope to reduce the number of women being diagnosed with breast cancer and detect breast cancer at an earlier stage.”
Helen Whitehead, who recently took part in the BC-Predict test, commented: “I was more than happy to take part in this project, as I think BC-Predict is a very important diagnostic tool that will make a real difference to many women – particularly the younger generation.
“I’ve never personally been affected by breast cancer, though I have had the odd scare, as many women have. However, throughout – I’m now 70 – I’ve always gone for screening, as I would any other type of medical appointment or routine check-up.
“Taking part was simple, too. I attended my mammogram screening as normal, and then I had to fill out a questionnaire. I’d encourage everyone who’s eligible to take part to do so, as it takes so little time and helps towards such a deserving cause.”