New Genetic Testing Could Help Prevent Breast Cancer

Scientists may now be able to predict which women will develop breast cancer by detecting minute errors in their DNA, according to findings published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 

A total of 77 genes were analysed by the international research team, and although they had little effect on cancer risk individually, as a combination they could prove significant.  The findings could one day transform preventative measures such as screening, treatments and even HRT.

Genetic testing is nothing new but is currently restricted to those women in the UK who are at high risk of developing breast cancer.  Mutations in the BRCA genes are rare, but can leave women who carry those genes with a 90% chance of developing breast cancer during their lifetime.

The research

The team who conducted this latest research was led by the Institute of Cancer Research in London and the University of Cambridge.  Researchers examined aspects of the genetic code that could influence a woman’s likelihood of developing breast cancer.  It was discovered that of the 77 cancer-risk strands in the DNA that were inherited from the father, and the corresponding 77 from the mother, the average woman would have 66.  The findings enabled the team to work out the probability of women developing the disease.

In those with no family history of breast cancer, the main-risk group had a 16.6% lifetime risk, whereas the lowest-risk group had 5.2% risk.  This compares with those who do have a family history of the disease where the higher-risk group were 24.4% at risk and the lower-risk group 8.2% at risk.

It’s hoped that work on a genetic screening test that includes all these elements will be underway within the next year.

Future prediction

When we can accurately predict the risk of a woman developing breast cancer, we have a much better chance of preventing and curing it.  High-risk groups could be screened earlier and treated with drugs like Raloxifene and Tamoxifen to reduce their risk, whereas lower-risk women might not need screening at all.  HRT is known to increase the risk of breast cancer, and knowledge of the background risk posed to women could influence who should and should not be prescribed HRT.

The research has now reached a crucial stage.  It’s hoped that it can be combined with current techniques to help target screening that will one day see genetic risk prediction become a routine aspect of all breast screening programs.

In conclusion

This latest announcement is great news for the future identification of high-risk groups who are likely to develop breast cancer during their lifetime.  Perhaps one day we will be able to make a pre-emptive strike on this disease before it even develops, and many more lives will be saved.



Alison Page

About Alison Page

Alison is a small business owner, freelance writer, author and dressage judge. She has degrees in Equine Science and Business Studies. Read her full story at

Alison Page

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