Many women with a faulty breast cancer gene could be at greater risk of the disease due to extra ‘risk amplifying’ genes, according to research published in the American Journal of Human Genetics today.
Cancer Research UK scientists have found that common versions of two genes – FGFR2 and TNRC9 – known to increase breast cancer risk in the general population – also increase the risk in women carrying damaged versions of the BRCA2 gene.
Around one in eighteen women will develop breast cancer by the age of 65. On average, half of women carrying a faulty BRCA2 gene will develop the disease by the age of 70.
This study found that particular combinations of the FGFR2 and TNRC9 genes modify breast cancer risk in BRCA2 mutation carriers.
One per cent of BRCA2 mutation carriers have the highest risk combination of FGFR2 and TNRC9 genes. Seven in every 10 women in this category are predicted to develop breast cancer.
Around twenty percent of the BRCA2 mutation carriers have the lowest risk combination of the FGFR2 and TNRC9 genes. The researchers found that their risk is lowered so four in every 10 women in this category are expected to develop the disease.
These findings are the first step in a series of studies hunting for breast cancer susceptibility genes, which aims to better monitor and treat women with a family history of the disease.
Lead author Professor Doug Easton, director of Cancer Research UK’s Genetic Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, said: “”This is the first time we have found evidence that common changes in other genes can amplify the risk of breast cancer in women known to have faulty BRCA genes.
“This is the first step in finding a set of genes that modify the risk in BRCA carriers, and may influence how we monitor women with a family history of the disease.”
The study brings together results from international research groups looking at a total of more than 10,000 women carrying a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.
Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, said: “It’s important to remember that the prevalence of this combination of gene faults is rare in the general population. But advances like this will add to our ability to identify those most at risk for clinical monitoring, detecting the disease earlier in those who develop it.”
For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.
Common breast cancer predisposition alleles modify breast cancer risk in BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers. Antonis C Antoniou et al. 2008. American Journal of Human Genetics.
The gene, MAP3K1 was associated with a change in breast cancer risk in BRCA2 carriers.
TNRC9 was also associated with a change in breast cancer risk in BRCA1 carriers.
About BRCA1 and BRCA2
- Around 1 in 800 women in the UK carry a faulty BRCA1 gene and 1 in 500 carry a faulty BRCA2 gene.
- Around 1 in 20 cancers are thought to be caused by high-risk faulty genes inherited from one or both parents.
- Women carrying the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation have a 50-80% chance of developing breast cancer and an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
- Genetic testing for faulty BRCA genes is available on the NHS for women with a very strong family history.
The University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge’s reputation for excellence is known worldwide and reflects the scholastic achievements of its academics and students, as well as the world-class original research carried out by its staff. Some of the world’s most significant scientific breakthroughs have occurred at the University, including the splitting of the atom, invention of the jet engine and the discoveries of stem cells, plate tectonics, pulsars and the structure of DNA. From Isaac Newton to Stephen Hawking, the University has nurtured some of history’s greatest minds and has produced more Nobel Prize winners than any other UK institution with over 80 laureates.
About Cancer Research UK
- Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK’s vision is to beat cancer.
- Cancer Research UK carries out world-class research to improve understanding of the disease and find out how to prevent, diagnose and treat different kinds of cancer.
- Cancer Research UK ensures that its findings are used to improve the lives of all cancer patients.
- Cancer Research UK helps people to understand cancer, the progress that is being made and the choices each person can make.
- Cancer Research UK works in partnership with others to achieve the greatest impact in the global fight against cancer.
- For further information about Cancer Research UK’s work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7009 8820 or visit our homepage.