From their talk at the World Cancer Congress 2016, Dr Giota Mitrou and our Director of Research Simon Vincent discuss how lifestyle and genetic factors affect our risk of breast cancer.

Wednesday 30 November 2016      Research blog
Professor Tezer Kutluk

Professor Tezer Kutluk opens the 2016 World Cancer Congress © UICC 2016

Last month Simon Vincent, our Director of Research, headed to Paris for the World Cancer Congress 2016. This huge conference focusses on the practical ways that we can better prevent and treat more cancers around the world, whether that’s through speeding up the progress of clinical trials, policy changes or using new technologies.

As well as learning all about the latest developments in improving cancer outcomes, Simon helped to lead a discussion, with Dr Giota Mitrou from World Cancer Research Fund and Professor Annie Anderson from the University of Dundee, about how lifestyle and genetic factors affect our risk of breast cancer.

Is it how we live our lives?

The session began by highlighting the evidence for how our diet and lifestyle can affect breast cancer risk. World Cancer Research Fund’s analysis of research from all over the world in the Continuous Update Project has found that weight, drinking alcohol and physical activity can all affect your risk of breast cancer.

In fact, according to the WCRF, about 2 in 5 breast cancer cases in the UK could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and not drinking alcohol - that's 20,000 fewer cases a year. This certainly supports the idea that our lifestyle and the choices we make affect our cancer risk.

Or is it just in the genes?

The discussion then explored the genetic risk factors for breast cancer. The Breast Cancer Now Generations Study, launched in 2004, is following over 100,000 women for 40 years with questionnaires and blood samples taken every few years to evaluate their genetic background and see where genes differ for the women in the study who do unfortunately develop breast cancer.

This landmark study has already provided valuable data on how genetics (and some lifestyle factors) can affect breast cancer risk, and will continue to provide results over its remaining 30 years. Read our blog from last year to find out more about the Generations Study and its results to date.

Maybe it’s interesting interactions between

Finally, Professor Annie Anderson looked at the practical steps we can take to change our lifestyles and so reduce our risk of breast cancer, such as drinking less alcohol, being more active and maintaining a healthy weight.

Prof Anderson and the panel also highlighted the need for more research into how lifestyle factors and genetic factors interact so that we can begin to see an even clearer picture on what causes breast cancer and be able to make better predictions on breast cancer risk.

Whilst we know the answer to some of the questions around lifestyle and genetics interactions, some of them are still unanswered but work like the Continuous Update Project and the Breast Cancer Now Generations Study are helping make the picture clearer.