Scientists have found four mutated genes that are common among women with breast cancer.
Four flawed genes have been discovered by scientists studying the genetic underpinnings of breast cancer. Researchers looked at more than 50,000 women across four continents and found that genetic mutations were a common thread among those who developed breast cancer. The research was published in Nature in May 2007. The flawed genes are FGFR2, TNRC9, MAP3K1 and LSP1.
If 50 percent of women have one of these flawed genes, will those women eventually get breast cancer?
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN chief medical correspondent: Not necessarily. Remember BRCA1 and BRCA2, two genetic mutations for breast cancer that were discovered in the 1990s. BRCA1 and 2 are rare mutations, but if you have them, you have a very high chance (50 to 85 percent) of getting breast cancer. The mutations we're talking about here are just the opposite: More women have them, but the risk is pretty low that it will lead to breast cancer. Most of the risk in the population is not due to these specific genes. Breast cancer caused by genetic mutations still occurs in a pretty small percentage of women.
Does this mean we could one day have a test for breast cancer using these genetic mutations as a barometer of a woman's risk?
Gupta: Researchers told us there may be dozens, if not hundreds, more of these genes to find before they have any utility for testing or drugs. It's possible to one day use this data to find out more precisely a woman's risk of breast cancer, even other cancers, but not for several years. Remember that the study itself casts these genetic mutations as "modestly" increasing the risk of breast cancer. It's such early research, there's no telling if this is a big deal study or not.
For women concerned about breast cancer, what can they do today with this new information?
Gupta: It's important to remember that only about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are linked to genetics. Other important risk factors that contribute to getting cancer are lifestyle. Smoking, not having children, high-fat diets are still the biggest risk factors for developing breast cancer. The biggest things one can do are preventative. Healthy women aged 40 and over should get a mammogram once a year. This is an important message because a recent American Cancer Society study finds mammography rates are going down in the U.S. Other ways to reduce your risk for cancer include exercising, quitting smoking and eating healthier.
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