October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month, highlighting the plight of patients and efforts to fight this potentially deadly disease that claims around 570 000 lives a year around the world. The EU is doing its part by funding a range of promising research projects, including two that are developing tools to better determine a womans breast cancer risk in order to optimise screening and prevention - and ultimately save lives.
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Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer affecting women around the globe. Key to survival is detecting tumours early on and taking appropriate preventive measures based on a womans likelihood of contracting the disease over the course of her lifetime.
EU-funded projects such as BRIDGES and B-CAST are contributing to global efforts to prevent the disease from occurring in the first place. The projects are developing personalised tools to more accurately assess a womans risk of developing breast cancer and subsequently help her and her doctor make the best possible decisions on reducing that risk and preventing the disease.
Both projects aim to improve current genetic testing approaches, which are used more and more often to determine whether a woman has high risk of developing breast cancer. Identifying high risk women as soon as possible provides them with the best chance of preventing the disease through stepped up screening, chemoprevention or surgery.
For example, BRIDGES is carrying out a comprehensive evaluation of all DNA variants of known and suspected breast cancer genes to expand existing collections of such data. It also plans to generate an evidence-based list of breast cancer genes accompanied by the estimated risk associated with each one.
This data will feed into the user-friendly online prediction tool being developed by BRIDGES to be known as BOADICEAPLUS that will combine genetic, hormonal, lifestyle and breast density risk factors into a single score and enable doctors to more accurately calculate a womans individualised breast cancer risk.
Singling out breast cancer subtypes
The development is being done in close coordination with B-CAST, which is also working on online tools and seeks to identify women at moderate to high risk of contracting breast cancer overall, as well as the subtype of cancer they are most likely to develop and the prognosis for that specific subtype.
This could have a significant impact since not only does the effectiveness of preventive and early detection vary by tumour subtype, so does the response to treatment. The results will enable healthcare providers to better tailor prevention and treatment strategies to a womans specific situation and needs.
Among other things, tumour subtype prediction could help better determine which women are more likely to benefit from screening because of an elevated risk of tumours more likely to be caught in this way and which would be better off with preventive endocrine therapy because of their increased risk for endocrine-responsive tumours.
In attempting to reach its objectives, B-CAST is making use of existing resources linked to the Breast Cancer Association Consortium. Specifically, the teams work includes collating clinical information from some 80 000 breast cancer patients with risk factor information, as well as generating new data on molecular characteristics of a subset of some 20 000 tumours from a unique global pool.
Breast cancer impacts over 1.5 million women around the world every year.
In the European Union, breast cancer claimed 93 500 lives in 2013 and accounted for 16.2 % of all cancer deaths among women.