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New Risk Factors for Breast Cancer Based on Digital Mammograms

The University of Melbourne Professor

John Hopper

Project Description: Recently, it has been determined that women with dense breast tissue are at a higher risk of breast cancer. Tissue density can be evaluated using digital mammograms, which are regularly used as a screening tool. Professor John Hopper (The University of Melbourne) will now use these research findings to improve screening processes, by incorporating new risk factors, such as breast density, into clinical care in Australia and globally.

Why this work is needed: Most of the previous work on mammogram-detected risk factors has been conducted using traditional film mammograms. The modern digital mammogram systems allow automated analysis of the images and immediate feedback to women and their health practitioners. This study will incorporate new risk factor information into clinical practice by including it in an automated measurement tool, VOLPARA.

Expected outcomes: The study will result in improved tools for point-of-care advice to women who are undergoing a digital mammogram. This will ensure women are provided with the most accurate information about their condition based on the latest research findings. In addition, this study will provide risk-based recommendations for when a woman should have a mammogram, and not base this critical timing decision on a woman’s age alone.

Project details

Breast tissue density has been shown to be an important risk factor for breast cancer. Density is easily measured using digital mammograms, but at present there is little guidance on how the findings should be used to improve screening. In particular, there is an opportunity to improve the timing of mammograms, to make mammography more cost-effective more sensitive, and less likely to cause anxiety for women.

Professor Hopper and his team will lead this translational project, collecting digital mammograms for over 5,000 women in their existing and new long-term studies. They will use this data, along with family history, genetic information and questionnaires, to learn more about how breast density can be incorporated into clinical decision making.

Once the data is collected, the team will conduct statistical analyses to translate the risk factors into an automated mammographic measurement tool, VOLPARA. This tool is used internationally to provide risk assessment information to clinicians and women at the time of a mammogram. The addition of new data to the tool will increase the accuracy of this information, improving breast screening globally.

The University of Melbourne Professor

John Hopper