Predicting breast cancer still underway

May 3, 2012

A pre-test for breast cancer could save lives, says Dr James Flanagan, research lead of Imperial College London.  Experts hope that a genetic test can be formulated to helppredict breast cancer many years before the disease is diagnosed. This is based from the findings of a research published in Cancer Research.

The research proposes a simple blood test to screen women for breast cancer. The test looks for how genes are altered by environmental factors like alcohol and hormones – a process known as epigenetics. One in five women is thought to have such a genetic “switch” that doubles breast cancer risk.

The research team analysed blood samples from 1,380 women of various ages, 640 of whom went on to develop breast cancer.  They found a strong link between breast cancer risk and molecular modification of a single gene called ATM, which is found on white blood cells.

They then looked for evidence of what was causing this change. Specifically, they looked for a chemical effect called methylation, which is known to act as a “gene switch”.

Women showing the highest methylation levels affecting the ATM gene were twice as likely to develop breast cancer compared with those with the lowest levels.

In some cases the changes were evident up to 11 years before a breast tumour was diagnosed.

 “We know that genetic variation contributes to a person’s risk of disease. With this new study we can now also say that epigenetic variation, or differences in how genes are modified, also has a role. We hope that this research is just the beginning of our understanding about the epigenetic component of breast cancer risk and in the coming years we hope to find many more examples of genes that contribute to a person’s risk. The challenge will be how to incorporate all of this new information into the computer models that are currently used for individual risk prediction,” said Dr. Flanagan.

Category: Medical breakthrough, Wellness and Complementary Therapies

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