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Release: Nov. 26, 2002

New Web site enables women to calculate their risk for breast cancer

A new Web site,, educates women about their individual risk for developing breast cancer and provides critical information about an ongoing clinical trial to prevent the disease.

The National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP), a world-renowned, nonprofit cancer research group funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), sponsors the Web site. Researchers from the NSABP and NCI developed the computerized formulas for the Web site, known as the Gail model. The model allows a woman to estimate her risk of developing breast cancer in the next five years and in her lifetime. The model uses factors such as age, family history of breast cancer and other personal factors to determine a woman's risk for breast cancer. Scientific analysis has shown that the Gail model is reliable.

Breast cancer will affect 200,000 women in North America this year alone, and more than 40,000 will die from the disease. Before the development of the Gail model, women had no accurate method for determining their individual risk for developing breast cancer.

"In my practice, I find that women tend to overestimate their breast cancer risk, leading to increased anxiety about developing the disease," said Adel S. Al-Jurf, M.D., University of Iowa professor of surgery and a surgical oncologist at UI Hospitals and Clinics. "Information that patients obtain about their personal breast cancer risk from the Web site allows them to have a personal conversation with their physician and to map a strategy for good breast care."

A decade ago, women facing an increased risk for breast cancer had no option other than vigilant screening designed to detect the disease in its earliest stage. That changed in 1998, when the NSABP's Breast Cancer Prevention Trial showed that a commonly prescribed medication, tamoxifen, can reduce the occurrence of breast cancer among women with an increased risk for the disease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) then approved the use of tamoxifen for reducing the risk of breast cancer among women who were more likely to be affected by the disorder.

Armed with that finding, the NSABP and NCI began a follow-up study, the Study of Tamoxifen and Raloxifene (STAR). Women who access can learn more about the study. STAR will compare the proven benefits of tamoxifen to the promising effects of raloxifene in postmenopausal women at increased risk for breast cancer. Preliminary data from osteoporosis studies show that raloxifene has the potential to reduce a postmenopausal woman's risk for breast cancer, yet that observation has yet to be proven through a clinical trial. The FDA has already approved raloxifene to treat and prevent osteoporosis.

"We strongly encourage all women to go through this risk assessment process to learn more about their breast cancer risk," said D. Lawrence Wickerman, M.D., associate chairman for the NSABP and the protocol officer for STAR. "Women who learn that they are at an increased risk for developing breast cancer can also use this Web site to find cancer experts in their own community who can discuss their options with them."

STAR is one of the largest breast cancer studies ever conducted and will enroll more than 22,000 postmenopausal women at more than 500 sites in the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada. To date, more than 14,000 women are participating in STAR. Women in the study take either tamoxifen or raloxifene daily for five years and receive close follow-up examinations. AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals of Wilmington, Del., the maker of tamoxifen, and Eli Lilly and Company of Indianapolis, Ind., the maker of raloxifene, are providing the medications at no cost to the participants.

In addition to visiting the Web site, postmenopausal women with an increased risk for developing breast cancer in Iowa and western Illinois can contact Mary Fitzgerald, a registered nurse and study coordinator, at (319) 356-2778 or toll free (800) 237-1225, or the NCI's Cancer Information Service toll free at (800) 422-6237, for more information about STAR.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at