Research considers new cancer screening for UK women

By Julie Griffiths on 23 January 2018 Cancer Research

Testing all UK women over 30 could result in thousands of fewer ovarian and breast cancer cases, new research suggests.

The study, conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University of London and the Barts Health NHS Trust, showed that the new programme could result in up to 17,000 fewer ovarian cancers and 64,000 fewer breast cancers.

The research suggests that screening the entire population for breast and ovarian cancer gene mutations, as opposed to just those at high-risk of carrying this mutation, is cost effective and could prevent more ovarian and breast cancers than the current clinical approach.

The most well known breast and ovarian cancer causing genes are BRCA1 and BRCA2, and women who are known to be carriers can manage and reduce their risk of developing cancer by enhanced screening, medical prevention or risk-reducing surgery. The current clinical approach to genetic testing is based on having a personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer.

In this study, the research team used complex mathematical models to compare costs and health benefits of population testing strategies for breast and ovarian cancer genes with clinical criteria or family history testing. 

They found that population testing for multiple cancer genes prevented many more ovarian and breast cancers than current screening methods, and would be cost-effective for both UK and US health systems.

Associate Professor Health Economics at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Dr Rosa Legood, said: ‘This approach can have important implications given the effective options that are available for ovarian and breast cancer risk management and prevention for women at increased risk.’

Dr Ranjit Manchanda, Consultant Gynaecological Oncologist, Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University of London, and Barts Health NHS Trust, UK, said: ‘With the costs of testing falling this approach can ensure that more women can take preventative action to reduce their risk or undertake regular screening. As knowledge and societal acceptability of this type of testing increases, it can in the future provide huge new opportunities for cancer prevention and changes in the way we deliver cancer genetic testing.’

The paper has been published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Click here to read it.