Monday, September 12, 2011

Daughters' breast cancer showing up earlier than their moms

(Photo courtesy National Institutes
of Health)
Sept. 12, 2011 (Cancer Digest) – What you don’t know can hurt you, and now researchers know that what you do know may hurt you sooner, at least as far genetic mutations for breast cancer are concerned.

A new study shows that women carriers of two genetic mutations that dramatically boost the risk of breast cancer are being diagnosed with breast cancer at an average age of 42 compared to age 48 for their mothers and aunts. The study was published online ahead of print in the journal Cancer.

Co-Author Dr. Jennifer Litton, assistant professor in MD Anderson Cancer Center’s department of Breast Medical Oncology, and colleagues say the study raises the possibility that having the genetic mutations in BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 may be causing cancer at an earlier age with each successive generation, a phenomenon called anticipation.

"In BRCA positive women with breast cancer, we actually might be seeing true anticipation -- the phenotype or cancer coming out earlier per generation,” Litton said in a prepared statement. “This suggests more than the mutation could be involved, perhaps lifestyle and environmental factors are also coming into play."

In their study the researchers identified 132 BRCA positive women with breast cancer who participated in a high-risk protocol through MD Anderson's Clinical Cancer Genetics Program between 2003 and 2009.  When they looked at each woman's family tree, 106 were found to have a female family member in the previous generation who also had either breast or ovarian cancer related to BRCA mutations. Age at diagnosis, location of mutation and birth year were recorded in both the older generation and younger generation women.

More research is needed, however, to determine if the biologic phenomenon of anticipation is occurring with BRCA genes or if other factors are involved with the earlier diagnosis. The research reconfirms that women with BRCA mutations should continue to be screened per the guidelines with regard to mammography and consider undergoing MRIs, and preventive surgeries. Litton notes, however that the addition of MRI screening may account for some of the change in diagnosis seen in the study.

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