By Sola Ogundipe
NOW women can readily know if they are at risk of breast cancer , thanks to researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center and colleagues at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who have developed a novel computer algorithm to easily quantify a major risk factor for breast cancer based on analysis of a screening mammogram.
A study describing the novel method and its utility is published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Research has shown increased levels of mammographic breast density is correlated with elevated risk of breast cancer, but the approach to quantifying it has been limited to the laboratory setting where measurement requires highly skilled technicians.
The new discovery opens the door for translation to the clinic where it can be used to identify high-risk women for tailored treatment.
Mammographic breast density, or the proportion of fibroglandular tissue pictured on the mammogram, is an established risk factor for breast cancer. Women with high mammographic breast density have a greater risk of developing breast cancer. However, mammographic breast density has not been used in clinical settings for risk assessments due in large part to the lack of an automated and standardized measurement.
Using their new method, the researchers compared the accuracy and reliability of their measurements of variation in breast density with the performance of tests that use the degree of dense breast tissue in a mammogram to assess breast cancer risk.
They found that the association between variation and the risk of breast cancer was strong for mammograms carried out four years prior to diagnosis. The automated method also made clearer distinctions between breast cancer case subjects and controls who did not have breast cancer.
While many clinicians use the risk predictive value of percent of breast density seen on the mammogram as the amount or proportion of bright tissue in an image, Heine and his co-authors found the variation of dense tissue is also relevant to breast cancer, suggesting a relationship between percent of breast density and variation in breast density.
The researchers were able to compare this novel breast density measure with an established percent density measure that was available four years before diagnosis, and were allowed to show that variation was present for at least four years, and in some cases, more than eight years. Offering clinicians and patients the advantage of more timely, reliable and accurate risk could open the door for interventions to lower risk and, hopefully, prevent the disease from occurring.