The ABACUS group

Project Details

Dr Carolyn Nickson heads the ABACUS group , which is working on three overlapping programs that aim to reduce the burden of breast cancer. The ABACUS group is a team of researchers working on three overlapping programs that aim to reduce the burden of breast cancer:

  1. Policy, evaluation and implementation studies about existing health services for breast cancer
  2. The development and validation of breast cancer risk assessment tools, for accurate population-level risk assessment, advice and management to assist with early detection of breast cancer
  3. Clinical and health economic modelling of the benefits, harms and costs of various risk-based approaches to breast cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment

Our research team is closely linked to Cancer Council New South Wales, with several staff working remotely as the Cancer Research Division’s breast cancer group (Pathways-Breast), headed by Dr Nickson. ABACUS also includes additional researchers working on University-led projects. ABACUS collaborates widely with clinicians, health service providers and research organisations.


Current projects include:

  • The ‘Toward Tailored Screening Project’, in collaboration with BreastScreen Victoria and the Peter McCallum Cancer Centre. This project is part of the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre’s new Precision Prevention and Tailored Screening program. The collaborative team is working together to better understand the feasibility, costs and acceptability of routine risk assessment within the BreastScreen Victoria program. This will include a small field test of routine risk assessment, with associated qualitative research in collaboration with A/Prof Louise Keogh.
  • Clinical and health economic modelling of population-wide screening protocols using the Policy1-Breast model (part of the Cancer Council NSW suite of cancer screening models).
  • Development of breast cancer health economic model components with A/Prof Dennis Petrie and Ms Karinna Saxby at the Centre for Health Economics at Monash University.
  • Development of a clinical and health economic model for population-wide genetic screening for breast and ovarian cancer high-risk pathogenic variants, including cascade testing of potentially high-risk relatives, with researchers from the Peter McCallum Cancer Centre  drawing on information from the lifepool  cohort.
  • Comparison of mammographic breast density measurements in terms of predicting (i) breast cancer risk, (ii) the sensitivity and specificity of mammographic screening, and (iii) the impact of any improvements in risk assessment on clinical and health economic outcomes of risk-based screening. This includes the AutoDensity tool developed by our team in collaboration with CSIRO.
  • The development and validation of breast cancer risk assessment tools that incorporate questionnaire, mammographic breast density and genetic information, using machine learning approaches to optimise use of available information. This has included validation of the Gail model on the Australian lifepool cohort, with ongoing work in collaboration with researchers from the Peter McCallum Cancer Centre and Cancer Council NSW.
  • Scientific leadership and expert research contribution for a project led by Cancer Council Australia for the Australian Department of Health, ‘Optimising Early Detection of Breast Cancer in Australia’ .
  • Epidemiological analyses of health outcomes in the lifepool cohort, focusing on female cancers



Cancer Council NSW

Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre


Australian Department of Health

Research Publications

Lew JB, Feletto E, Wade S, Caruana M, Kang YJ, Nickson C, Simms KT, Procopio P, Taylor N, Worthington J, Smith D, Canfell K. Benefits, harms and cost-effectiveness of cancer screening in Australia: an overview of modelling estimates. Public Health Res Pract. 2019 Jul 31;29(2). pii: 29121913. doi: 10.17061/phrp2921913. PubMed PMID: 31384886.

Nickson C, Velentzis LS, Brennan P, Mann GB, Houssami N. Improving breast cancer screening in Australia: a public health perspective. Public Health Res Pract. 2019 Jul 31;29(2). pii: 2921911. doi: 10.17061/phrp2921911. PubMed PMID: 31384884 .

Li T, Tang L, Gandomkar Z, Heard R, Mello-Thoms C, Xiao Q, Gu Y, Di G, Nickson C, Shao Z, Brennan P. Characteristics of Mammographic Breast Density and Associated Factors for Chinese Women: Results from an Automated Measurement. J Oncol. 2019 Mar 19;2019:4910854. doi: 10.1155/2019/4910854. eCollection 2019. PubMed PMID: 31015834; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6444251.

Bromley HL, Petrie D, Mann GB, Nickson C, Rea D, Roberts TE. Valuing the health states associated with breast cancer screening programmes: A systematic review of economic measures. Soc Sci Med. 2019 May;228:142-154. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.03.028. Epub 2019 Mar 21. Review. PubMed PMID: 30913528.

Cheasley D, Li N, Rowley SM, Elder K, Mann GB, Loi S, Savas P, Goode DL, Kader T, Zethoven M, Semple T, Fox SB, Pang JM, Byrne D, Devereux L, Nickson C, Procopio P, Lee G, Hughes S, Saunders H, Fujihara KM, Kuykhoven K, Connaughton J, James PA, Gorringe KL, Campbell IG. Molecular comparison of interval and screen-detected breast cancers. J Pathol. 2019 Jun;248(2):243-252. doi: 10.1002/path.5251. Epub 2019 Mar 8. PubMed PMID: 30746706.

Nickson C, Procopio P, Velentzis LS, Carr S, Devereux L, Mann GB, James P, Lee G, Wellard C, Campbell I. Prospective validation of the NCI Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool (Gail Model) on 40,000 Australian women. Breast Cancer Res. 2018 Dec 20;20(1):155. doi: 10.1186/s13058-018-1084-x. PubMed PMID: 30572910; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6302513.

Mann GB, Nickson C, Elder K. Treatment Intensity Differences According to Participation in a Population Screening Program. Ann Surg Oncol. 2019 Feb;26(2):698-699. doi: 10.1245/s10434-018-07113-w. Epub 2018 Dec 18. PubMed PMID: 30565041.

Elder K, Nickson C, Mann GB. ASO Author Reflections: Impact of Breast Cancer Screening Beyond Mortality Reductions. Ann Surg Oncol. 2018 Dec;25(Suppl 3):687-688. doi: 10.1245/s10434-018-7001-9. Epub 2018 Nov 9. PubMed PMID: 30414033.

Tavakoli Taba S, Baran P, Lewis S, Heard R, Pacile S, Nesterets YI, Mayo SC, Dullin C, Dreossi D, Arfelli F, Thompson D, McCormack M, Alakhras M, Brun F, Pinamonti M, Nickson C, Hall C, Zanconati F, Lockie D, Quiney HM, Tromba G, Gureyev TE, Brennan PC. Toward Improving Breast Cancer Imaging: Radiological Assessment of Propagation-Based Phase-Contrast CT Technology. Acad Radiol. 2019 Jun;26(6):e7-e89. doi: 10.1016/j.acra.2018.07.008. Epub 2018 Aug 25. PubMed PMID: 30149975.

Elder K, Nickson C, Pattanasri M, Cooke S, Machalek D, Rose A, Mou A, Collins JP, Park A, De Boer R, Phillips C, Pridmore V, Farrugia H, Bruce Mann G. Treatment Intensity Differences After Early-Stage Breast Cancer (ESBC) Diagnosis Depending on Participation in a Screening Program. Ann Surg Oncol. 2018 Sep;25(9):2563-2572. doi: 10.1245/s10434-018-6469-7. Epub 2018 May 1. PubMed PMID: 29717421.

Pattanasri M, Elder K, Nickson C, Cooke S, Machalek D, Rose A, Mou A, Collins JP, Park A, De Boer R, Phillips C, Pridmore V, Farrugia H, Mann GB. Uptake of adjuvant breast cancer treatments recommended by multi-disciplinary meetings. ANZ J Surg. 2018 Jan 23. doi: 10.1111/ans.14368. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 29363225.

Reports to government

Nickson C, Petrie D, Tew M, Lockie D, Clemson M, Munro J. Assessment of Return on Investment from using Tomosynthesis (DBT) in BreastScreen Assessment: Interim Report to the Department of Health and Human Services. Accepted 17 August 2016.

Research Group

Faculty Research Themes


School Research Themes

Data science, health metrics and disease modeling, Prevention and management of non-communicable diseases (including cancer), and promotion of mental health, Screening and early detection of disease

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact the research group leader.

Department / Centre

Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics

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