How do you know what your risk is for breast cancer and what would you do about it if you knew?
Mayo Clinic breast cancer expert Dr. Sandhya Pruthi and CancerCare Manitoba radiation oncologist Dr. Julian Kim are trying to help women answer those questions.
They're collaborating on a research project involving a blood test that detects which women are at an increased risk of getting breast cancer so they can make a more informed choice on taking preventive medicines.
Aside from a 30-year-old risk-assessment tool that looks at medical and family history, there's no way for a woman to know what her odds are of getting breast cancer.
The abnormal BRCA1 gene that compelled actor Angelina Jolie to have a double mastectomy to minimize her risk accounts for less than five per cent of all breast cancers, said Pruthi.
CancerCare Manitoba estimates 900 women in the province are diagnosed with breast cancer every year; around 220 die from it annually. Most women with breast cancer, it says, do not have a family history of the disease.
Pruthi said she and Kim want to test healthy women to see if their polygenic risk score -- the number of DNA "spelling mistakes" detected in their blood linked to increased risks for breast cancer -- influences their decision to take preventive medication.
Quantifying their risk level may help patients decide whether to take a drug such as tamoxifen, which carries possible side-effects such as hot flashes, said Pruthi.
"Less than one per cent of candidates for preventive therapies take them," said Kim. "We want to make the decision-making process more informed."
The first year of the three-year study is being funded by Winnipeg's Terracon Development Inc.
"Strengthening ties with researchers at the Mayo Clinic is a benefit for our patients," said Kim, the principal investigator at CancerCare.
"Clinical trials give them tomorrow's treatment today."