A saliva test that identifies nearly half of women with breast cancer in the next decade could save the lives of thousands under 50.
The test was promoted by TV presenter Julia Bradbury, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 51, and new research has been hailed as “promising” by Health Minister Sajid Javid.
It may be particularly useful to identify people under 50 years of age who are at a higher genetic risk of developing breast cancer, and who cannot currently have a mammogram on the NHS.
A major study of a saliva test looked at nearly 2,500 women at risk of developing breast cancer. Of those women who were followed for an average of ten years, 644 developed breast cancer.
A saliva test is expected to cost around £250 on the NHS, while breast cancer treatment can cost tens of thousands of pounds. [File photo]
The test, which was used in conjunction with standard medical and life history information, and a measure of women’s breast density, accurately predicted the risk of breast cancer in less than 50 percent of those who developed it.
Professor Gareth Evans, who led the study from the University of Manchester, said: ‘If all these women took breast cancer prevention drugs, it could prevent a quarter of breast cancer cases and potentially save the lives of 2,000 women a year. If young, high-risk women were offered mammograms, it could save hundreds more annually.
“It is particularly important for women under 50, who make up one in five cases of breast cancer.”
Researchers want to perform a one-time genetic test on women around the age of 30, before they become eligible for mammograms at age 50.
The saliva test is expected to cost around £250 on the NHS, while breast cancer treatment can cost tens of thousands of pounds.
Mr Javid said the results were “promising,” adding: “We are constantly monitoring innovative research like this to help inform our approach and treat patients faster.” Currently, women under 50 can only have genetic testing on the NHS if a family member has a faulty gene linked to breast cancer, or if they have a strong family history of the disease in younger women.
It has been hailed as “promising” new research by Health Minister Sajid Javid. It may be particularly useful to identify people under 50 who are at a higher genetic risk of developing breast cancer, and who cannot currently have a mammogram on the NHS.
The new study is the first to look at this test, and the saliva test looks for more than 300 genetic variations, in addition to the two measures already available on the NHS – breast density and risk factors such as weight and family history.
Researchers found that women with a “medium or high risk” of developing breast cancer made up 48 percent of those who developed “growing” breast cancer, classified as stage II or higher by clinicians.
But nearly one in five women has been found to be at risk of developing breast cancer, which means they have a much less than 2 percent chance of developing it in the next decade.
Not only does this mean that women at higher risk need more screening, but nearly one in five low-risk women may need mammograms less frequently.
The results of the study, published in the journal Genetics in Medicine, found that about one in 50 women diagnosed with breast cancer had mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes that increased the risk of the disease. Of the nine women with breast cancer and a BRCA mutation in the study, only three were able to detect it via the NHS under current rules.
But the study authors say BRCA mutations are so uncommon that it’s important to look at hundreds of other genetic variations, too.
Both individually carry a lower risk of developing breast cancer together and can help greatly predict whether women will develop breast cancer.
In the study, four out of ten women were found to have either an increased risk of developing breast cancer, an average or high risk of developing breast cancer, or a lower risk of developing breast cancer. These classes are described as “executable”. Some women at higher risk have chosen to start taking medications that are likely to reduce their risk.
The UK’s National Screening Committee, which decides whether genetic testing should be made available to all women, is looking at saliva test results.
Dr Kotryna Temcinaite, from Breast Cancer Now, said: “Every year 55,000 women and 370 men are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK. Early detection can stop people dying from breast cancer, which is why we need research like this to understand how it might work. A more detailed approach to breast examination.
Country Profile Julia: She may have saved me from a mastectomy
TV presenter Julia Bradbury has said that all women on the NHS should be offered a genetic test for breast cancer.
The mother-of-three and former Countryfile presenter underwent a mastectomy to remove her left breast after an ultrasound revealed a two-inch tumor.
‘If I could do a saliva test that showed I was at risk for breast cancer,’ she said, ‘that could have found the cancer earlier, and it would have saved my left breast.
“I am a champion of genetic testing for women and men because cancer treatments like mastectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy are brutal and ruthless.”
A mother-of-three and former Countryfile host underwent a mastectomy to remove her left breast after an ultrasound revealed a two-inch tumor.
Miss Bradbury – who recently directed the documentary Breast Cancer Me and Me – became eligible for a mammogram on the NHS last July.
Two of the mammograms came back clear, but another ultrasound showed a “shadow” on the scan. She used a saliva test, looking for genetic variations that indicate her risks, to make a decision not to have a double mastectomy.
Prof Gareth Evans, who is at the University of Manchester’s NHS Foundation Trust who gave the test to Miss Bradbury, said: ‘I really believe that if Julia could be given this genetic test, and doctors used the results, she would have been screened from the age of 40.
This could have meant that breast cancer was picked up much sooner by a mammogram. This can apply to up to one in eight women who do not have a family history of breast cancer.