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Breast cancer prediction to become more accurate


June 3, 2007: Researchers from the University of Cambridge have identified four new genes that significantly affect a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. These new findings based on a large study could allow doctors to predict cancer risk more accurately, and guide treatments to prevent and cure the disease, according to a report in Nature.

Breast cancer, which affects about one in every nine women in Britain and the United States, is known to have a strong genetic influence. But until now, known genes could account for only about a quarter of the genetic component of cancer risk. To search for some of the many other genes thought to make small differences to a woman's breast-cancer risk, the researchers compared the genomes of some 4,400 women with breast cancer with those of about 4,300 who did not have the disease. As more genes are identified, tests will become more predictive.

Scientists found 30 differences in single DNA bases that seemed to be linked to the disease. These were then compared in more than 20,000 women with breast cancer and in a similar number of controls.

Three of the newly discovered genes are involved in controlling the growth of cells. The gene with the strongest association was fibroblast growth factor receptor 2, or FGFR2. Women who have two copies of the high-risk version of this gene — about 16% of the population — have a 60% greater chance of developing breast cancer than do those with no copies of the gene.

At present, scanning these newly discovered genes would tell us little about a woman's cancer risk. But as more and more genetic risk factors are uncovered, genetic profiling could give doctors a fine-grained picture of individual risk, and could even lead to bespoke treatments offering the best chance of preventing or treating the disease.




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