Tool combines hundreds of genetic indicators and risk factors

Experts have developed what they have described as a potentially game-changing test to predict a woman’s risk of breast cancer.

They have a developed a way of calculating the risk of developing the disease by combining information on family history and genetics with other factors such as weight, age at menopause, alcohol consumption and use of hormone replacement therapy.

Although individually some of these things have a small impact on the likelihood of developing the disease, researchers found that by considering all of them at once, plus family history and genetics, they can identify groups of women who have different risks of developing breast cancer.

For the first time, researchers have taken into account more than 300 genetic indicators for breast cancer, which makes calculating the risk much more precise than ever before, Cancer Research UK said.

From this, the researchers have created an online calculator for GPs to use in their surgeries.

Doctors are prompted to answer a series of online questions about their patient including their medical and family history, whether they have any known genetic alterations linked to cancer, their weight and whether they drink alcohol.

In the future, information like this could help to tailor breast cancer screening depending on an individual’s risk. For example, it could help determine what age they are first invited for breast screening or how regularly they are invited to receive it, the charity said.

It added that the risk calculation could also help people to make decisions about preventative therapy – such as identifying women at high risk who may benefit from taking the drug tamoxifen – as well as encouraging women to think about the ways they could reduce the risk themselves, for example trying to keep a healthy weight.

Professor Antonis Antoniou, lead author at the University of Cambridge, said it is the first time that anyone has combined so many elements into one breast cancer prediction tool.

“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 claimed. “This should help doctors to tailor the care they provide depending on their patients’ level of risk.”