The European Commission has awarded an unprecedented €7.9m grant to a ground-breaking research project, led by University College London, which has the potential to predict and prevent the development of women-specific cancers.
FORECEE (4C) is a new clinical research programme which brings together 14 European partners, and an additional €1m in funding from The Eve Appeal - the only charity involved in the research - to develop a screening process which aims to prevent female cancers and save significantly more women's lives.
This research aims to make individualised risk predictions for cancer available to women for the first time, by looking for molecular markers in cervical cells - taken from a regular smear test - that can predict the risk of them developing any one of four cancers: breast, cervical, endometrial and ovarian. These cancers alone represent 47% of all cancers in women, and amongst them are cancers with a 5-year survival rate of just 40%. A staggering 516,000 new cases are diagnosed in the EU each year.
Professor Martin Widschwendter, Head of the Department of Women's Cancer at the University College London (UCL) Institute for Women's Health - the lead researcher - said: "Cancer prediction has become one of the most pressing issues in health care today, which is why we are delighted the European Commission is enabling this ambitious programme to take place.
"We have seen similar strides in medical advances within cardiovascular health, where markers can indicate risk for future development of myocardial infarction or stroke. By following the same pathway for women's cancers, we have the potential to save countless numbers of lives."
The unique focus of the 4C programme looks beyond just cancer genetics, and into how each woman's body responds to environmental and lifestyle factors which can raise or decrease the risk of developing cancer. By bringing these factors together, 4C aims to develop tests that predict a woman's individual risk of developing female cancers, and to investigate the best ways of incorporating these into large-scale and cost effective screening programmes available to whole populations.
Athena Lamnisos, CEO of The Eve Appeal, says: "The success of this programme will mean that women could undergo one simple cervical smear test to would identify a woman's risk of developing any of the four cancers and direct their individual programme of screening and cancer prevention.
"This research project is a massive step forward for women and families who otherwise suffer the devastating consequences of poor cancer prediction. This is an exciting time for gynaecological research given the potential results the study could yield - it would improve the lives of thousands who could be at risk of developing a form of women's cancer by detecting the risk earlier in the process."
Ewout Steyerberg, Professor of Medical Decision Making at Erasmus MC in Rotterdam and a core partner in the FORECEE program said: "Understanding the range of risk factors for developing breast or ovarian cancer is key to saving women's lives. We're compiling a complete picture of the role that hormones, genes and lifestyle play on the development of women's cancers. Once we've decoded this - we can make more personalised risk predictions and hence provide more targeted prevention."
Daloni Carlisle, 51 from Sevenoaks who lives with endometrial cancer said: "Anything that looks at ways to prevent these cancers is hugely welcome. Women with cancers such as endometrial or ovarian cancer like mine, where there's no test and no screening available, are desperate to see something developed that will prevent women of the future going through the brutal treatment and facing the grim prognosis that we do today."