UCI Health, Athena network help thousands assess breast cancer risk

UC medical centers collaborate to improve screening, diagnosis and treatment

October 26, 2015

More than 9,000 local women have joined a University of California effort that assesses their risk factors for breast cancer, and, for those at high risk, develops personalized care plans and referrals for further treatment. Launched in 2009, the Athena Breast Health Network is a collaboration of the five University of California medical centers, led by UC San Francisco. It is designed to collect data and generate knowledge that will shape the way breast cancer is diagnosed and treated.

Women who come to UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange or UCI Health Gottschalk Medical Plaza in Irvine for a mammogram complete an electronic health history questionnaire to assess their breast cancer risk. Women found to be at high risk receive a personalized breast cancer prevention plan, based on individual risk factors identified in the questionnaire and the results of her mammogram.

“One of our breast health specialists shares the risk factors and plan recommendations with the patient and her primary care provider,” said Hoda Anton-Culver, PhD, UC Irvine’s principal investigator for the Athena project and chair, Department of Epidemiology, UC Irvine School of Medicine.  “Our patients have been very receptive to participating in the project, especially those at high risk. When they know what their specific risk factors are, they can take informed action.”

A total of 232 women in the UCI Health portion of the study were identified as having a high risk of developing breast cancer and received referrals for one or more types of further care that includes:

  • 76 for lifestyle intervention programs, such as smoking cessation, weight loss or dietary modifications,
  • 100 for genetic counseling, and
  • 99 for additional imaging or consultation with a high-risk specialist.

Women may also participate in the Athena observational study, which aims to recruit more than 150,000 women across the five UC medical centers, and will use breast health data collected over decades to help advance the science behind screening, diagnosis and prevention as well as in developing customized therapies.   

“More than 80 percent of the patients who are asked to participate in the research choose to do so,” Anton-Culver said. “This project unites California women, physicians and researchers, as we work together to improve breast health and improve the screening, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of breast cancer.”

UCI Health comprises the clinical, medical education and research enterprises of the University of California, Irvine. Patients can access UCI Health at physician offices throughout Orange County and at its main campus, UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, Calif., a 411-bed acute care hospital that provides tertiary and quaternary care, ambulatory and specialty medical clinics, behavioral health and rehabilitation. U.S. News & World Report has listed it among America’s Best Hospitals for 15 consecutive years. UC Irvine Medical Center is home to Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, high-risk perinatal/neonatal program, Level I trauma center and Level II pediatric trauma center, and is the primary teaching hospital for UC Irvine School of Medicine. UCI Health serves a region of more than 3 million people in Orange County, western Riverside County and southeast Los Angeles County. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

About the University of California, Irvine: Currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, UC Irvine is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, the university has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $4.8 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UC Irvine, visit www.uci.edu.

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