Tool helps assess risk for second breast cancer

October 26, 2017 by Amanda Siegfried, University of Texas at Dallas
A cancerous cell is depicted in this illustration. About 1 in 8 women in the United States develop invasive breast cancer during their lives, according to the American Cancer Society. Credit: iStock

Statisticians at The University of Texas at Dallas have developed an online tool to help breast cancer patients assess their risk of getting a second breast cancer, providing additional guidance for patients and their doctors in the timely management of the disease.

Dr. Swati Biswas, associate professor of statistics in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, has spent a major part of her career working on statistical models that shed light on who is most at risk for developing .

Recently, Biswas collaborated with Dr. Pankaj Choudhary, professor of statistics, and their doctoral student Marzana Chowdhury to develop an assessment tool that provides with their future risk of getting contralateral —the development of cancer in the other, healthy breast over time. They worked closely on the project with Dr. David Euhus, director of at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, to incorporate multiple risk factors, such as breast density, family history, the type of breast cancer and age at first diagnosis.

The tool, available in an online app, can help patients and their doctors determine the best course of action, such as whether to remove the healthy breast, Biswas said. The research, funded by the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, was published earlier this year in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

"One aspect of our model that is different from other tools is that we allow the risk factors to have an unknown category. If for some reason the patient does not know their , for example, the model will still work. This feature enhances the usability of our tool," Choudhary said. "Breast density is a fairly newly recognized risk factor, and typically has not been collected as standard data."

The project is the focus of Chowdhury's doctoral research. She is testing the assessment model using two large independent data sets.

"Marzana has done an amazing job on this research, and was critical to its success," Biswas said. "This project is something where both statistical expertise and the insights of medical professionals were needed. It simply could not have happened without that combination."

In the end, tests like those developed by Biswas and her colleagues can help ensure that women get the right amount of care when they need it.

"Of course, we want to make sure that women who are at risk get the active surveillance they need," Biswas said. "But we also want to help make sure that women who aren't at risk aren't getting unnecessary medical intervention."

Choudhary said he expects the model will help educate patients and provide physicians with an additional quantitative tool.

"Not that long ago, doctors had to rely on their intuition to counsel their patients," he said. "Our tool is not a replacement for a physician's intuition or judgment, but it can help inform that judgment."

The researchers said that developing the assessment tool has personally been a rewarding learning process that illustrates the underlying importance of mathematics and statistics beyond the classroom.

"This is one of my most impactful contributions to science and society," Choudhary said. "For many academics, people already familiar with their field are the ones most likely to read their published papers. But if this model validates well, thousands of people could be helped."

According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 8 women in the United States develop during their lives. Estimates show that more than 40,000 will die of the disease in 2017.

"The importance of statistics sometimes becomes obscure to the general public. People think, 'Oh, that's math, what's the use?'" Biswas said. "But this project really shows the important role mathematics and statistics play in areas vital to our everyday lives."

Explore further: Breast cancer screenings still best for early detection

More information: Marzana Chowdhury et al. A model for individualized risk prediction of contralateral breast cancer, Breast Cancer Research and Treatment (2016). DOI: 10.1007/s10549-016-4039-x

Related Stories

Breast cancer screenings still best for early detection

October 12, 2017
(HealthDay)—Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States, and routine screenings remain the most reliable way to detect the disease early, a breast cancer expert says.

New model more accurately predicts breast cancer risk in Hispanic women

December 20, 2016
A new breast cancer model, published today in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, will help health care providers more accurately predict breast cancer risk in their Hispanic patients.

Breast cancer patients with dense breast tissue more likely to develop contralateral disease

February 7, 2017
Breast cancer patients with dense breast tissue have almost a two-fold increased risk of developing disease in the contralateral breast, according to new research from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer.

Most women unaware of breast density's effect on cancer risk, study finds

November 21, 2016
Most women don't know that having dense breasts increases their risk for breast cancer and reduces a mammogram's ability to detect cancer, according to a University of Virginia School of Medicine study.

Breast cancer awareness: What women need to know

September 28, 2016
As national Breast Cancer Awareness Months begins next week, breast health expert Dr. Sharon Koehler of New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, says women need to know the following five things:

Breast density research edges closer to cancer prevention

January 24, 2017
Adelaide researchers are one step closer to breast cancer prevention after finding a new driver for breast density, an identified risk factor for breast cancer.

Recommended for you

A 150-year-old drug might improve radiation therapy for cancer

October 17, 2018
A drug first identified 150 years ago and used as a smooth-muscle relaxant might make tumors more sensitive to radiation therapy, according to a recent study led by researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer ...

Study involving hundreds of patient samples may reveal new treatment options of leukemia

October 17, 2018
After more than five years and 672 patient samples, an OHSU research team has published the largest cancer dataset of its kind for a form of leukemia. The study, "Functional Genomic Landscape of Acute Myeloid Leukemia", published ...

Loss of protein p53 helps cancer cells multiply in 'unfavourable' conditions

October 17, 2018
Researchers have discovered a novel consequence of loss of the tumour protein p53 that promotes cancer development, according to new findings in eLife.

Researcher fighting breast cancer with light therapy

October 17, 2018
When treatment is working for a patient who is fighting cancer, the light at the end of the tunnel is easier to see.

New method uses just a drop of blood to monitor lung cancer treatment

October 17, 2018
Dr. Tasuku Honjo won the 2018 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for discovering the immune T-cell protein PD-1. This discovery led to a set of anti-cancer medications called checkpoint inhibitors, one of the first of ...

Gene screening technique helps identify genes involved in a fatty liver-associated liver cancer

October 17, 2018
With an estimated twenty-thousand protein-coding genes in the human genome, pinpointing a specific gene or pathway responsible for a particular disease can be like finding a needle in the proverbial haystack. This has certainly ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.