Inherited breast cancer goes under microscope

A €2. 4 million project that will study familial breast cancer among Maltese and Sicilian communities was officially launched yesterday by Health Minister Godfrey Farrugia.

The project, work on which started in March and will continue until 2015, will be led by the Health Ministry with the participation of the University of Malta and the Malta Council for Science and Technology.

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The EU co-funded project, called IMaGenX, will design and test IT systems to evaluate genetic, environmental and lifestyle risks related to breast cancer among the two communities. The data would be analysed and distributed to help people lower the risk. A desktop and smartphone app would be developed whereby young women input their lifestyle details and would be given a risk profile, project leader Joe Psaila said. Speaking during a visit to the National Health Screening Centre at Lascaris Wharf, Dr Farrugia argued that, along with being better for patients, disease prevention techniques such as screening were more cost-effective, pointing out that treatment was invariably more expensive. The breast screening programme implemented by the centre had been commended by the International Agency for Research on Cancer but Dr Farrugia commented that the place needed a more robust setup, which translated into more human and financial resources. He announced that the Government intended to extend the screening programme to women over 60 and increase the frequency of screening from once every three years to biannually. Since its launch in October 2009, about 20,000 women have been tested, 174 of them being diagnosed with cancer. When it comes to colorectal testing, Dr Farrugia said the Government had inherited a waiting list of about 400 people living in Gozo and nearly 1,000 in Malta. Since November, the screening centre had sent out 2,200 invitations, 400 were tested and 21 people were referred for further examinations as they were found to be at risk of deve-loping bowel cancer. One had been eventually diagnosed with cancer and five had polyps.