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UCSF Researchers Study Benefits To Personal Approach For Breast Cancer Screening

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A Bay Area company is joining forces with UCSF in a study that could revolutionize the way women are screened for breast cancer.

For decades mammograms have been the primary test for spotting breast cancer, but what if you could peer even deeper into the body and scan for cancer risk hidden in a woman's DNA.

New high-speed gene sequencing tests are able to home in on key sections that can signal that elevated cancer risk. "To look into the order of the beads, you compare if the order is normal compared to a standard breast cancer gene that functions normally or whether there is a change," Veer said.

Researchers at UCSF are about to test the power of gene sequencing in a clinical trial that will compare traditional breast cancer screening to a more personalized approach.

The project consists of over 100,000 women and is known as the WISDOM study. Half the participants will provide details of their family history, then undergo imaging to determine the density of their breasts. Finally, they will provide a saliva sample for gene sequencing.

Elad Gil, Ph.D., is the founder of Color Genomics. The company is based in Burlingame and has developed a system that's lowered the cost of genetic screening from several thousand dollars to a few hundred dollars per sample. He said they have now tailored it for the WISDOM trial. "What we've done is we've customized our panel, so we only cover nine genes for them, the genes that are most strongly associated with breast cancer risk," Gil said.

Researchers will combine those results with other factors to provide a personalized recommendation, including how often women should be screened for breast cancer. "And that results in maybe no screening, every other year, every year, or if your risk is high, every six months screening," Veer said.

If the outcomes are positive for the risk-based approach, it could ultimately provide an alternative to blanket recommendations on mammograms, potentially ushering in a new era of personalized breast cancer screening.

Click here to learn more about the WISDOM study trial.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.