Non-Hereditary Breast Cancer Risk Predicted by New Test

According to Genome Medicine, researchers at University College London are developing a blood test that could help predict a woman's likelihood of developing breast cancer.

Researchers at UCL have identified a signature in the blood of women who carry the genetic mutation of the highly invasive BRCA1 gene. This gene was also found in women who did not have the mutation but went on to develop cancer. Experts think the gene may be a potential early marker of the disease.

The BRCA1 mutation is hereditary and causes around 10 percent of breast cancer. The other 90 percent is found in women who do not carry the mutation, which is thought to be sporadic. Genetic mutations are not the sole causes of the disease, scientist are finding, and the arrangement of genes in our cells can decide whether or not mutations are turned on or off. The arrangement may determine what genes in immune cells are silenced, effecting the immune system's ability to prevent cancer development. 

"We identified an epigenetic signature in women with a mutated BRCA1 gene that was linked to increased cancer risk and lower survival rates," Martin Widschwendter, the study's lead author and head of UCL's Department of Women's Cancer, said in a statement. "Surprisingly, we found the same signature in large cohorts of women without the BRCA1 mutation and it was able to predict breast cancer risk several years before diagnosis."

Further clinical studies are being done to ascertain if the genetic signature is just a marker of breast cancer risk or is involved in the cancer's progression. 

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