According to a study published on JAMA Oncology last Thursday, 28.9% of all breast cancers diagnosed on white women from the United States can be prevented by taking into account 4 risk factors. The results only apply for invasive breast cancer which is the second the second deadliest type of cancer in the U.S. after the lung variation which is still topping the list.

So far, the most reliable weapon humanity has developed against this terrible disease is prevention. The nature of the disease makes an absolute cure quite challenging, but there are lots of research teams trying solve the problem for good. In the meantime, preventing cancer saves millions of lives around the world.

Dr. Mass led a team of researchers that wanted to know the specific role modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors in a screening process
Dr. Mass led a team of researchers that wanted to know the specific role modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors in a screening process. Image Credit: CNN

“Overall, we estimated that up to 28.9% of all breast cancers could be prevented if all white women in the US population were at the lowest risk from these 4 modifiable risk factors. Nearly one-fifth of these total preventable cases arise from the subpopulation in the top decile of nonmodifiable risk. In contrast, only about 4% of the preventable cases arise from the population in the lowest decile of nonmodifiable risk,” said Dr. Paige Mass, a Posdoctoral Fellow in the Biostatistics Branch of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics at the National Cancer Institute.

Risk factors

Dr. Mass led a team of researchers that wanted to know the specific role modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors in a screening process. They analyzed the data of 17,171 cases and 19,862 controls from 8 different studies including the genetic data and questionnaire information of 5879 women from the United States, Australia and Europe. All the cases were confirmed by medical reports and/or the presence of tumors.

The team separated the risk factors in 2 categories; non-modifiable and modifiable. The first group consists of things that are out of people’s control, such as family history, gender, race, ethnicity and genetic mutations. The latter plays a big role on cancer diagnosis, or so scientists say.

DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) is a molecule that contains the genetic instructions for growth, development and reproduction of all living things. When specialists refer to genetic mutation, it means these instructions changed somehow. At least 1% of the human population has a genetic mutation, and it is nothing like the movies. Usually, these changes in the DNA make a person more susceptible to some problems than the rest of us. The most common mutations are variations of position, for example let us suppose that the normal order is ‘ABC’, on a ‘mutant’ that order could be something like “CBA”.

There are a lot of cohorts that studied an association between some specific variations and higher risks of cancer, like the GWAS studies, the BCP3 and the PRS-92 risk factors. Image Credit: IFL Science

In fact, people can go to a medical center and have their DNA checked. Then, the results can be uploaded to a website that says what diseases they are more susceptible to. In this regard, there is not a lot to do, but not everything is bad news.

Dr. Mass and her colleagues were able to identify 4 major modifiable risk factors: BMI; calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared], MHT use, level of alcohol consumption, and smoking. In addition, the paper says menopause increases the risks of getting cancer considerately.


One of the major goals Dr. Mass and her team achieved was the stratification, or categorization, of absolute cancer risk for a specific population. According to the paper, a 30-year old white woman from the United States has 11.3% chances of developing invasive breast cancer by the time she is 80. The number is not exact, but according to the team, it is very accurate. However, Modifiable risk factors play a big role in the diagnosis.

Based on the investigation, the research team claims that by cutting out tobacco and tobacco an American white woman could reduce her chances of developing the disease. They also said if she had a low body mass index and did not use MHT, the scenario was even better. By controlling this 4 main aspects, the team claims 28.9% of invasive breast cancer cases can be prevented.

Moreover, for people who is more susceptible to the disease because of their genes, the benefits of putting on check these modifiable factors is even greater.  Even though the paper only refers to white women who were born in the United States, using the results to create prevention campaigns could save hundreds of thousands of lives. According to the U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics, 246,660 cases of invasive breast cancer are expected for 2016.

“Results from these analyses could have implications for future cancer prevention efforts, particularly for risk communication and counseling at an individual level. For instance, women found to be at elevated risk owing to factors that cannot be changed may be more motivated to adopt a healthy lifestyle to lower their risk of breast cancer if they had a better understanding of the potential gains. In this regard, it is encouraging that even for women in the highest decile of risk owing to nonmodifiable factors, those who had low BMI, did not smoke or drink, and did not use MHT, had risks comparable to those for an average woman in the general population,” the paper reads.

Source: Oncology