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

Scientists discover new method of diagnosing cancer with malaria protein

August 17, 2018
In a spectacular new study, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have discovered a method of diagnosing a broad range of cancers at their early stages by utilising a particular malaria protein that sticks to cancer ...

Developing an on-off switch for breast cancer treatment

August 17, 2018
T-cells play an important role in the body's immune system, and one of their tasks is to find and destroy infection. However, T-cells struggle to identify solid, cancerous tumors in the body. A current cancer therapy is using ...

Pregnant? Eating broccoli sprouts may reduce child's chances of breast cancer later in life

August 16, 2018
Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have found that a plant-based diet is more effective in preventing breast cancer later in life for the child if the mother consumed broccoli while pregnant. The 2018 ...

Three scientists share $500,000 prize for work on cancer therapy

August 15, 2018
Tumors once considered untreatable have disappeared and people previously given months to live are surviving for decades thanks to new therapies emerging from the work of three scientists chosen to receive a $500,000 medical ...

PARP inhibitor improves progression-free survival in patients with advanced breast cancers

August 15, 2018
In a randomized, Phase III trial led by researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the PARP inhibitor talazoparib extended progression-free survival (PFS) and improved quality-of-life measures over ...

New clues into how 'trash bag of the cell' traps and seals off waste

August 15, 2018
The mechanics behind how an important process within the cell traps material before recycling it has puzzled scientists for years. But Penn State researchers have gained new insight into how this process seals off waste, ...

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.