A screening programme to provide one test for four cancers

The Eve Appeal launched a ground-breaking four year European-wide research programme in September 2015 which has been partly funded by the European Commission (Horizon 2020) and led by UCL Women’s Cancer Department. The vision of FORECEE (4C) is to develop a screening test that aims to prevent four cancers- breast, womb, ovarian and cervical.

The first results from the FORECEE programme, published in Nature Communications, show promising results- the test (called the WID-Test) was able to detect up to 30% more women with breast and ovarian cancer than current genetic-based tests.

The WID-Test looks beyond cancer genetics, and into how each person responds to environmental and lifestyle factors which can increase or decrease the risk of developing cancer. By bringing these factors together, the researchers are aiming to develop a screening programme that predicts the risk of these four cancers and enables women and people with gynae organs to take steps to help prevent cancer from developing.

Together, these four cancers account for more than 50% of all cancers in women in Europe- that’s 250,000 people diagnosed with these diseases each year in Europe alone, and almost 45,000 die from them. The WID-Test could revolutionise cancer screening and allow for a holistic view of future risk of developing these four key cancers, using genetics, lifestyle and environment, from one cervical screening sample.

Results are due to be published soon on the WID-Tests ability to pick up womb and cervical cancer, and we will share these results as soon as possible. The next stage in the FORECEE programme is now to take the WID-Test into large-scale population studies to help determine who the screening could benefit – all women and people with a cervix, or just those known to be at a higher risk (eg those with a BRCA alteration).

“Our studies have taken a completely novel approach and evaluate an individual’s risk for more than one cancer by assessing several different epigenetic footprints in a single cervical screening sample.

“The WID-test will look for the footprints on a woman’s DNA as she goes through life, recording the track she is taking and whether she is heading towards cancer. The WID-test will revolutionise screening and enable a more personalised approach to cancer prevention and detection, where women will be screened, monitored or treated based on their individual, and changing, risk.

“The results published so far show that our tests can out-perform currently available methods and we are looking forward to running trials to validate these initial findings in large numbers of women. We look forward to a future in which cancer screening is driven by better molecular tests that give women the option to take preventive measures at an early stage and journey away from cancer.” Prof Martin Widschwendter, European Translational Oncology Prevention and Screening Institute (EUTOPS), University of Innsbruck, and Department of Women’s Cancer, UCL.

Find out more about the February 2022 FORECEE research announcement on our blog.

Professor Martin Widschwendter, Head of the Department of Women's Cancer at the University College London