-- Robert Preidt
TUESDAY, May 1 (HealthDay News) -- A blood test that spots
changes in a specific gene could reveal a woman's risk for breast
cancer years before the disease has a chance to develop,
British scientists analyzed blood samples from 640 breast cancer
patients and 741 women without breast cancer. The samples from the
breast cancer patients were collected an average of three years
before they were diagnosed with the disease.
The objective was to find out if the alteration of single genes
by a process called methylation could predict a woman's breast
The researchers found that women with the highest level of
methylation on one area of a gene called ATM were two times more
likely to develop cancer than those with the lowest level of
methylation. Methylation is a critical process where chemicals
known as "methyl groups" are added to DNA, to make sure everything
is in good working order. High levels of methylation signal high
levels of DNA trouble.
This result was particularly pronounced in blood samples taken
from women under the age of 60, Dr. James Flanagan, a Breast Cancer
Campaign scientific fellow in the department of surgery and cancer
at Imperial College London, said in a news release from the Breast
The study was published May 1 in the journal
Unlike previous studies that took blood from breast cancer
patients after diagnosis, these blood samples identified
alterations in the ATM gene that did not occur because of having
active cancer or cancer treatments.
The findings provide strong evidence that looking for this type
of alteration in individual genes could be used as a blood test to
help predict a woman's chances of developing breast cancer, the
Used in combination with other breast cancer risk assessment
tools such as genetic testing and risk factor profiling, this blood
test could help identify women at higher risk. This early warning
could be used to monitor these patients and one day perhaps even
prevent them from developing breast cancer.
"We know that genetic variation contributes to a person's risk of disease. With this new study, we can now also say that epigenetic variation, or differences in how genes are modified, also has a role," Flanagan said.
"We hope that this research is just the beginning of our understanding about the epigenetic component of breast cancer risk, and in the coming years we hope to find many more examples of genes that contribute to a person's risk. The challenge will be how to incorporate all of this new information into the computer models that are currently used for individual risk prediction," he noted.
"So far, we have found alterations in one small region of a gene that appear to associate with risk of disease, and so the next step with this epigenetic research is a genome-wide approach to try and find all the associated genes," Flanagan explained.
The American Cancer Society has more about
breast cancer risk factors.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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