Project Details

Researcher: Dr Nora Pashayan

Location: University College London

Project title: Testing personalised breast cancer screening programme

Key area: Risk and Prevention

The challenge

The risk of developing breast cancer varies from woman to woman. However, the breast screening programme in the UK isn’t set up to tailor the screening for each individual woman’s chances of developing cancer. This means that some women may not be screened enough and others might be screened too often. We need to understand how the development and progression of breast cancer is affected by someone’s risk and other factors.

The science behind the project

In this project, Dr Pashayan will use data from the SEARCH study, a project involving over 15,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in East Anglia over the course of more than a decade. She will use genetic and clinical data to calculate the risk of developing breast cancer within 10 years for each SEARCH participant, taking into account factors including the woman’s genes, family history, lifestyle, reproductive history, and breast density.

Dr Pashayan will use this information to estimate the effect that risk has on the natural progression of the disease, and on risk of ‘overdiagnosis’ – when breast cancers which would have never been diagnosed or have caused harm are detected by screening.

These estimates will be used to come up with best screening strategies for each risk group. The screening strategies may differ on timing and frequency of screening, and the screening test used. For example, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be more beneficial for women at high risk with dense breasts than mammography, which is currently the standard screening method for breast cancer.

What difference will this project make?

This research will provide the evidence for recommendations on the use of different tailored screening strategies for women with different breast cancer risks. Personalising screening according to woman’s risk, could not only save lives by detecting cancer earlier, but also protect women from overdiagnosis and overtreatment if they don’t need it.

We would like to thank Marks and Spencer for supporting this project.

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