Breast Cancer

A saliva test which identifies almost half of women who will get breast cancer in the next decade could save the lives of thousands of under-50s.

The new study is the first to look at the test, and a saliva test looking for more than 300 genetic differences, plus the two measures already available on the NHS – breast density and risk factors such as weight and family history.

Researchers found women with a ‘moderate or high risk’ of breast cancer made up 48 per cent of those who developed ‘growing’ breast cancers, categorised at stage two or higher by doctors.

But almost one in five women was found to be low-risk for breast cancer, meaning they had a well under 2 per cent chance of developing it in the next decade.

It means not only might higher-risk women need more screening, but almost one in five low-risk women could need less frequent mammograms.

The study results, published in the journal Genetics in Medicine, found around one in 50 women with breast cancer had mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes which increased their risk of the disease.

Of the nine women with breast cancer and a BRCA mutation in the study, only three would have been able to find this out via the NHS under current rules.

But the study authors say BRCA mutations are so uncommon that it is important to look at hundreds of other genetic variations too.

Individually they carry a lower risk of breast cancer together they can help to significantly predict if women will get breast cancer.

In the study, four in 10 women were found either to have the highest risk, a moderate or high risk or the lowest risk of breast cancer. These are described as ‘actionable’ categories. Some of the women with a higher risk have opted to start drugs likely to reduce their risk.

The UK National Screening Committee, which decides whether genetic testing should be available to all women, is looking at the results of the saliva test.

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