Latina Women May Carry Genetic Variant that Lowers Risk of Breast Cancer

According to a study published in the Oct. 20, 2014, issue of Nature Communications, a genetic variant commonly found in Latina women may protect them against breast cancer.

About 20 percent of Latinas in the U.S. have one copy of the variant, a difference in the letters of the human genome. Dr. Elad Ziv, the study’s senior author, told the University of California San Francisco that those who carry the variant are about 40 percent less likely to develop breast cancer. Less than 1 percent of the Latina population in the U.S. has two copies of the variant, and therefore an 80 percent reduction in the likelihood of developing the disease.

The variant causes breast tissue to be less dense, as is shown in mammograms. According to experts, high density breasts are a risk factor for the disease and they can cause delayed diagnosis by obscuring images during a mammogram. Data from the National Cancer Institute has shown that white women have a 13 percent risk of breast cancer, black women an 11 percent risk and Hispanics less than 10 percent.

“After our earliest studies we thought there might be a genetic variant that led to increased risk in European populations. But what this latest work shows is that instead there is a protective variant in Native American and Latina populations,” Ziv told UCSF.

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