Women are advised to start breast cancer screening by age 50 at the latest to ensure better chances of treatment and survival in case of a positive diagnosis. However, in most Asian countries, many women who could be at risk of breast cancer do not go for screening.
To empower women to proceed with the right screening and prevention choices, a team of scientists from Malaysia, Singapore, and the UK, have together developed a genetic tool to assess breast cancer risk for Asian women. The Asian Polygenic Risk Score (PRS) tool can be used to predict the likelihood a woman will develop breast cancer based on her genetic sequence.
“Individualised screening and prevention of breast cancer is important because the majority of Asian women have a low risk of developing breast cancer, and only a small proportion have inherited genetic factors that are associated with an increased risk to the disease,” said Professor Datin Paduka Dr. Teo Soo Hwang, OBE, Chief Scientific Officer at Cancer Research Malaysia, and co-lead of the project.
The research that went into the PRS project saw participation from over 58,00 women from Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, US, and Canada, and integrated data from 228,951 European women with Asian-specific genetic markers to improve the accuracy of the tool.
Dr. Tai Mei Chee, postdoctoral researcher at Cancer Research Malaysia, further elaborated, “The genetic make-up is not the same for all Asians. For example, the genetic architecture of Malay, Chinese and Indian women are very different from each other. Bringing together patients from University Malaya, Subang Jaya Medical Centre, National University Hospital, Singapore, and six other major treatment centres in Singapore has significantly increased the sample size of Southeast Asians and had enabled us to show that the new Asian tool is predictive of breast cancer risk across the Malay, Chinese and Indian ethnic groups from Malaysia and Singapore.”
Malaysia anticipates a 49% increase in breast cancer cases from 2012 to 2025. It has a much lower five-year survival rate compared to other Asian countries at only 63%, whereas South Korea is at 92% and Singapore is at 80%.
The development of the PRS is hoped to reduce inefficiency, unnecessary cost, and even possible harm caused by over-diagnosis in Asian women, and more importantly reduce the gap in survival of cancer in Asians compared to Europeans.