Breast cancer risk `not equal among women`

Last Updated: Nov 02, 2011, 16:29 PM IST

London: Women are not automatically more likely to develop breast cancer if a relative has the high-risk genes, says a new study.

An international team has found that mothers, sisters and daughters from breast cancer families with known genetic mutations do not all share the same high risk of developing the disease, the `Journal of Clinical Oncology` reported.

Previous studies suggested that women with the breast cancer genetic mutations BRCA1 or BRCA2 are at least 10 times more likely to develop breast cancer than the average woman.

Now, the new research has found that women who do not have a genetic mutation, but are closely related to women who do have genetic mutations are at an average risk of developing the disease.

Professor John Hopper from the School of Population Health, University of Melbourne, who led the Australian component of the study, said some women in this scenario were worrying unnecessarily.

"Our study revealed that these women have an average risk of developing the disease as opposed to the high risk of their mutation-carrying close relatives and hence do not need to worry unnecessarily and over screen to detect the disease.

"Our results revealed there was no evidence of increased breast cancer risk for non-carriers of the genetic mutations, certainly not the five-fold increased risk suggested by the authors of the 2007 study," he added.

The study, led by Professor Alice Whittemore from Stanford University School of Medicine, is the largest analysis to date of breast cancer risk for non-carriers of family specific breast cancer mutations.

More than 3000 breast cancer families from the population at large were analysed for their genetic risk of the disease.

The researchers compared the risk of breast cancer among first-degree relatives of breast cancer patients who did and did not carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.

Women were recruited from an international consortium, the Breast Cancer Family Registry, which used population cancer registries in USA, Australia and Canada. Prof Hopper said genetic testing could help to clarify which women are at high or average risk.

"Genetic testing will give women a clearer indication of their real risk level and hence clarify what they could or should not do to reduce their risks of developing beast cancer," he added.

PTI