Academics plan Hong Kong-wide study of breast cancer cases

Research will help identify risk factors for deadly disease, researchers say

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 4:33am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 4:44pm

Academics at the University of Hong Kong are planning a major study of breast cancer cases in the city in an attempt to learn more about risk factors and address a dearth of local data on the often fatal disease.

Dr Ava Kwong Hoi-wai, clinical associate professor of breast surgery at the university's Li Ka-shing Faculty of Medicine, said she saw the need for the city-wide study after examining data relating to cases in the 10 years from 1997. She found that much important information, such as whether the patient was a smoker, was missing.

"The study will be helpful for future health policymaking, such as deciding what kind of screening is needed, not just for academic research," Kwong said.

She plans to work with breast cancer specialists, public health experts and epidemiologists to collect data on all new breast cancer cases for a two-year period, involving an expected 6,000 patients. She hopes the government will support her work.

The study will look at risk factors for breast cancer, including smoking, and the interaction between genetic and environmental factors. Similar research has been conducted in different parts of the world, Kwong said, but data from Chinese communities was lacking.

The relationship between smoking and breast cancer is well established, but the exact mechanism has yet to be identified, Kwong said.

A US report published yesterday found that young women who were smokers or had recently quit and had smoked a pack a day for at least 10 years had a 60 per cent increased risk of oestrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer, the most common kind of breast cancer.

The researchers conducted a population-based study of 778 patients with oestrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer and 182 patients with triple-negative breast cancer, a less common but more aggressive type, in the Seattle area. The report was published in Cancer, the peerreviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

There were some 3,440 new breast cancer cases in Hong Kong in 2011, making it the third most common type of cancer diagnosed that year. The condition killed 554 people that year, according to the Hospital Authority's Cancer Registry.