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Study aims to improve breast cancer screening recommendations

April 04, 2018 | UCI Health
female doctor examining mammogram results

Who should be screened for breast cancer, when and how often? Currently, the recommendations are somewhat vague.

UCI Health is participating in an important new study that aims to improve those recommendations. The Wisdom Study, a joint effort of all University of California (UC) medical centers, will track 100,000 women; UCI Health will recruit and follow 10,000 of those participants.

Taking personal risk into account

Currently, annual or biennial mammograms are recommended for women over a certain age. But many doctors believe screening guidelines would be more effective if they also took into account a women’s personal risk of breast cancer, including breast density, family history and genetics.

The Wisdom Study will test that idea. “Our main aim is to determine how safe risk-based screening is compared with annual screening,” says Hannah Lui Park, PhD, an assistant professor of epidemiology and UCI Health’s site director for the study.

Early detection while minimizing false positives

“While we want to minimize the number of false-positives, we still need to be able to detect breast cancers early enough so that patients can be treated effectively, with no increase in morbidity or mortality,” Park says.

In 2017, more than 250,000 U.S. women were diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 women died due to the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute. Nationally, it is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. If diagnosed early, when tumors are small and haven’t spread, survival rates are high.

Current federal recommendations call for women ages 40 to 44 to choose whether to begin having annual mammograms. Women ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year, but women ages 55 and older should switch to mammograms every two years.

Who can participate in the study?

The study is open to women who:

  • Are between the ages of 40 to 74
  • Have never had breast cancer
  • Get their healthcare in California

They do not need to be patients at UC medical centers. Participants also can choose to be randomly assigned to receive annual screening or risk-based screening.

The study is available in English and Spanish. 

While random assignment is preferred by the researchers, women who prefer to participate in one group or the other have that option as well.

Those in the risk-based group will receive a risk assessment, which included genetic analysis of a saliva sample. Their screening schedule will be based on that assessment.

The Wisdom Study is funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and private donations.

Learn more about the study

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