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What is your breast cancer risk score?

TLDR? Watch the Astro Awani interview instead!

This year, our very own Malaysian scientists, together with the University of Cambridge and Singapore, released a ground-breaking genetic study to help identify Asian women with a higher risk of breast cancer.

Turns out, a genetic tool developed to help European women assess breast cancer risk also works in Asian women.

Illustration by Inka

Hmm… why is this research important?

This is the first time this genetic tool has been used to predict breast cancer risk in Asians on such a large scale. It’s a milestone for Asian women in the fight against breast cancer – the most common cancer in women worldwide.

Previously, research in Asians was nearly 6x smaller than that of Europeans, so we lacked the data to know if this genetic tool is effective in Asian women. Thanks to this study, we now know it works!

Based on our study, 30% of Malaysian and Singaporean women have a similar predicted breast cancer risk to European women. For this higher risk group, going for regular mammograms is really important. For others, different screening strategies may be more appropriate.” – Professor Datin Paduka Dr Teo Soo Hwang, OBE, Chief Scientific Officer at Cancer Research Malaysia and co-lead of the project
Many Asian countries don’t have the resources to screen everyone, so identifying those with higher risk could be a strategy for early detection. Photo by Airam Dato-on on Unsplash.

The results can empower women to decide which screening and prevention is right for them, and help reduce inefficiency, unnecessary cost, and even possible harm caused by over-diagnosis.

Wow, so how does this genetic tool work?

The tool, called a Polygenic Risk Score (PRS), separates people into different risk groups based on their genetic sequence, to predict their future risk of developing breast cancer.

“Our DNA codes consist of 3 billion alphabets – out of which, 313 common defective genes could elevate breast cancer risk. We evaluated the PRS in 45,212 Asian women, from Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, USA, and Canada. We used the PRS tool to generate their risk score, depending on how many of these defective genes they carry. Those in the highest risk group had a 1 in 6 chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime.” – Associate Professor Ho Weang Kee, Statistician at the University of Nottingham Malaysia and first author of the study

Listen to the BFM podcast “What’s my risk of getting breast cancer?”

What does this mean for me? Can I find out my risk score?

We’re working on it! Our goal is to develop a breast cancer risk calculator for Asian women, to improve early detection. It will combine our findings from different studies like PRS which looks at common defective genes, BRIDGES which looks at rare defective genes like BRCA1 and BRCA2, lifestyle risk factors and other data like mammographic density.

There’s lots to look forward to, so be sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to our newsletter to get updates.

Help us do more to ensure Asians are not left out in the fight against cancer.

Read the full report in the prestigious Nature Communications science journal.

Big congratulations to the amazing team who collaborated on this ground-breaking genetic study: Professor Datin Paduka Dr Teo Soo Hwang, OBE, Cancer Research Malaysia; Associate Professor Ho Weang Kee, University of Nottingham Malaysia; Professor Douglas Easton and Professor Antonis Antoniou, University of Cambridge; Professor Nur Aishah Mohd Taib, University of Malaya; Professor Dato’ Dr Yip Cheng Har, Subang Jaya Medical Centre; Associate Professor Mikael Hartman, National University Health System – NUHS; Dr Li Jingmei, Genome Institute of Singapore.

The study was supported by numerous research grants and charitable funding, principally from the Medical Research Council and Academy of Sciences Malaysia via the Newton-Ungku Omar Fund, the Wellcome Trust Collaborative Science Award, Yayasan Sime Darby, Yayasan PETRONAS, and Estee Lauder Group of Companies.


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