Quebec researchers are part of an international study that shows a simple saliva test could help predict a woman’s risk for the disease – a potential breakthrough in cancer screening.

The study started years ago, involving hundreds of scientists across the world, according to Jacques Simard, study co-author and Canada Research Chair in Oncogenetics at Laval University.

The study aims to better understand the role of genetics in the risk of breast cancer.

Researchers pooled DNA samples – mostly saliva - to compare 94,000 women who had breast cancer to 75,000 who didn’t.

“The goal is really to have access to the DNA, and we can extract the DNA from the saliva,” Simard explained. “Then, using this information, it will be combined in a new risk-prediction model.”

The model was developed by scientists from the University of Cambridge in England, and international researchers confirmed a high accuracy rate.

The model includes genetic information, along with family history and lifestyle risk factors.

“Through this study, we have been able to analyze more than 10 million markers across the genome, and we have been able to demonstrate that a signature of 313 markers is the best one to establish a risk related to breast cancer as a function of these common variations,” Simard added.

Women aged 50 to 69 are eligible for the Quebec Health Ministry’s breast cancer screening program, and they’re encouraged to undergo a mammogram every two years.

Simard says the saliva tests could be useful for younger women.

“We know that one out of six breast cancers will be diagnosed in women younger than 50,” he added. “And that’s why it will be interesting to be able to identify women who are at a higher risk – for example, at the beginning of their 40’s.”

Simard and his team still have a lot more work ahead. This spring, they’re launching a follow-up feasibility study, thanks to $15.2 million in funding from Genome Quebec.