How Genes Could Make Early Cancer Diagnosis Possible

Given how many women develop breast cancer, it’s not surprising that much research has been conducted on the genetic risk factors of this notorious disease. As it turns out, genes might have more to say about breast cancer risk than previously thought.

A Worldwide Issue

This report comes from Australia’s QIMRBerghofer Medical Research Institute, and appeared in the journals Nature and Nature Genetics. The study represented a massive undertaking; over 300 research groups contributed to this research,
which encompassed over 275,000 women from countries around the world. Some prominent academic institutions that assisted with this project included University of Cambridge, University Laval in Quebec and Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

These women were split into two groups – those that had breast cancer, and those who had been fortunate enough to avoid this disease. Upon pouring over their mounds of data, the researchers positively identified 65 gene variants that can foster the development of breast cancer tumors. The team also documented 7 additional genes that increase the risk of oestrogen-receptor negative breast cancer. This type of cancer does not respond to common cancer medications, making it difficult to treat.

Getting the Jump on Cancer

One of the study authors, Professor Georgia Chenevix-Trench, contends that her team’s work could eventually pave the way for more proactive breast cancer treatments. “We know that breast cancer is caused by complex interactions between these genetic variants and our environment, but these newly discovered markers bring the number of known variants associated with breast cancer to around 180.” In a news release detailing the study, Chenevix-Trench further stated that “our [team’s] hope is that in future we will be able to test for these genetic variants in order to inform
preventative approaches and treatment for women who may be at a higher risk of breast cancer.”

Generally speaking, most women are usually screened for breast cancers in middle aged. If doctors know which genetic markers to look for, however, they could offer screening to potentially at-risk women at a much younger age.

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