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October 16, 2021

New test makes assessing breast cancer risk more precise, equitable for all women, researchers say

Myriad Genetics has produced a test that helps women assess their risk of developing breast cancer. (Heather Simonsen, KSL-TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time, women of all ethnicities can get an accurate test to predict their risk of breast cancer. The new test also better pinpoints when they’ll most be at risk. The new risk screening made all the difference for a Utah woman.

When Nicole Lambert’s aunt had only months left to live because of metastatic breast cancer, it was a wake-up call.

“This little voice inside of me said, ‘I never, never, never want to have this conversation myself,’ so I knew it was time to get tested,” said Lambert, president of Myriad Genetics.

Her company designed the MyRisk Hereditary Cancer test, a blood or saliva test available now to women at high risk for breast cancer. Nicole’s results were conclusive.

“It told me that I was at a really high risk for breast cancer,” she said.

Last summer, she had preventative surgery. Later, biopsies showed Lambert had two early-stage breast cancers that might not have shown up on a mammogram.

Dr. Thomas Slavin, chief medical officer at Myriad Genetics, said, “We’re able to give both a five-year risk for breast cancer and a lifetime risk for breast cancer.”

The test examines 35 clinically significant genes associated with eight hereditary cancers, researchers said. The screening is more precise, empowering women to get preventative surgeries when it’s best for them.

“It allowed me to do the surgery on my own time when it was right for my family,” Lambert said. “And also before I had to sit down with someone in a white coat who said, ‘You have breast cancer, you need to do something right away.'”

Slavin said the test is also equitable for women of all ethnic backgrounds.

“We knew there was a major deficiency in the testing making it only available for women of European descent, and we were handcuffed, we needed to re-engineer this test,” he said. “Whether you’re European ancestry, non-European ancestry, whatever your overall background, we’re able to handle it now. It’s a preventative step to help save the lives of all women.”

Lambert said she took the precaution for her 8-year-old son. “It was the right decision for me, and it allows me to know that I’m going to be there for his wedding, I’m going to be there for his high school graduation,” she said.

Scientists are assessing risks and protecting women of all ancestries. Myriad Genetics hopes to one day make the test available to all women, not just those at high risk.

To learn more about the MyRisk test, talk with your healthcare provider.

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