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Approved Research

Designing and validating cancer risk and prognostic tools

Principal Investigator: Dr Julia Steinberg
Approved Research ID: 61181
Approval date: February 7th 2022

Lay summary

Cancer is a disease with huge health burden. In the UK alone, every two minutes someone is diagnosed with cancer, and the numbers have been rising over the past decade. Therefore, it is important to identify factors that contribute to cancer risk. In this project, we will conduct analyses to identify genetic, lifestyle, environmental, demographic and health factors that are associated with cancer risk. To enable targeted and personalised prevention approaches, we will investigate how the identified risk factors can be used to stratify individuals for risk-appropriate screening - for example, whether a particular risk score for breast cancer can accurately identify women who would benefit from more frequent or earlier screening. As it is known that the prediction of risk using genetic data can be less accurate for people with non-European ancestry, we will quantify differences in the quality of cancer risk predictions for people of different ancestries. Where differences are identified, we will examine how the risk prediction can be improved for people of diverse ancestries.

Where feasible, we will compare the insights gained from this work with comparable analyses of other international data, such as the 45 and Up Study cohort in Australia, which includes over 250,000 residents of New South Wales, aged 45 and over. This will allow us to determine the extent to which factors influencing cancer risk are similar or different across countries and settings. The comparison will also allow for risk tools developed based on Australian data to be independently tested using the UK Biobank data, and vice versa.

In a second strand of this work, we will follow a similar approach to investigate factors associated with death after a cancer diagnosis. In particular, we will examine associations between COVID-19 and cancer, and changes in survival of people with cancer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This study will improve the understanding of factors contributing to cancer risk and prognosis, paving the way for improved interventions to reduce the future burden of cancer. By studying potential differences in the quality of risk prediction between ancestry groups, this work will also highlight to what extent the use of such new risk tools could exacerbate existing health inequities. Thus, this work is very well-aligned with the aim of UK Biobank to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses.

The intended duration of this project is 5 years.