Our Research Into Breast Screening
The following are all Breast Cancer Campaign funded research into breast screening. We have funded four grants worth nearly £360,000 to support research to investigate the best ways to carry out breast screening and how to best inform women about screening.
Professor Gareth Evans
St Mary's Hospital Manchester
“Mammographic surveillance in women aged 35-39 at enhanced familial risk of breast cancer (FH02)”
Although only women over 50 are eligible to receive regular NHS mammograms, younger women whose family history puts them at high risk of developing the disease are often referred for screening by their GPs. However, National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines now say that women under 40 should only be screened as part of a research study. Professor Evans’ project will help advise NICE and the NHS about the best way to monitor younger high risk women to ensure that the most lives are saved.
Dr Laurence Taggart
University of Ulster
“The experiences of women with learning disabilities (LD) accessing breast screening services”
Despite women with learning disabilities having access to breast screening services, their attendance rate remains poor. Dr Taggart and Dr Sonja McIlfatrick conducted small focus groups with women with learning disabilities aged between 40 and 70 years as well as their family carers and residential staff to establish why these women are less likely to attend screening and what would motivate them to do so. A lack of information and embarrassment were identified as the main barriers to screening for this group.
Dr Helen Pattison
“Development of an intervention to promote breast screening uptake in Chinese-British women”
Previous research had shown that in the UK breast cancer is the most common cancer amongst Chinese-British women, but their screening attendance rates are low. In this project researchers conducted focus groups with Chinese-British women and found that any intervention to improve screening uptake needs to overcome language barriers and make use of the Chinese media, particularly television, to increase and sustain the use of services. Interventions also need to recognise Chinese-British women’s beliefs about health, which are likely to lead to good health maintenance but which are not informed by knowledge of breast cancer causes and progression.
Ms Valerie McCormack
London School of Hygiene &Tropical Medicine
“Mammographic breast density in British young women: natural history and breast cancer prediction”
Researchers believe women with dense breasts (where there is more breast and connective tissue than fat) are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer, though the reasons for this are not fully understood. Until now, researchers have only compared denser breasts with normal breasts, rather than looking at changes in breast tissue over time and how they are related to breast cancer risk. Valerie McCormack and Zoe Aitken studied mammograms from over a thousand women taken annually between the ages 40 and 48, as well as those taken every three years after this.
They discovered that:
- the breast area where a tumour develops has a higher mammographic density (MD) than the rest of the breast up to 5 years before diagnosis,
- a higher socio-economic status is associated with higher MD,
- women’s MD (high or low) relative to peers rarely changes from age 40,
- some women have a less than expected decline in MD from 40-50, and these women seem to have a higher risk of breast cancer.
The researchers are now looking to collaborate with researchers in the Netherlands to pool data from a similar study and are continuing their work with a Cancer Research UK grant.
These findings are relevant to the current debate over whether women should be told whether they have dense breasts when they are screened, as areas of density may mask early tumours.
This year the US states of Connecticut, Texas, Virginia and New York passed laws requiring that mammogram providers notify women if they have dense breasts with their screening results. Similar legislation has been introduced in other states and Congress; an advocacy group is keeping track at http://www.areyoudense.org.