In a study from the University of Otago, scientists found a gene, that when modified, could reduce the risk of breast cancer.
The discovery also opens the door to the development of a risk-reducing drug.
The initial study was the world’s largest of women known to have mutations of the breast cancer genes—BRCA1 and BRCA2. It made two “significant” discoveries.
In the study, the team examined about 26,000 women known to have mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, and 166 researchers from 160 institutes worldwide.
They found a gene—the SULT1A1—that may help doctors decrease the chance of women getting breast cancer, especially if they have also inherited a mutation in the BRCA1 gene.
They also found that women who have inherited a BRCA1 gene with segments missing are, for reasons as yet unknown, at the highest risk of developing breast cancer.
In New Zealand, about one in every 250 individuals inherit a genetic mutation in these two genes, which means they are at high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
However, the risk of cancer for these individuals varies significantly due to other unknown genetic changes, creating a significant challenge for counseling and clinical decision-making.
Currently, the most effective risk-reducing strategy for these women at high risk of breast cancer is a bilateral mastectomy.
Although effective, this approach is irreversible and can cause ongoing psychological and physiological harm to patients, especially for younger women, Associate Professor Walker says.
The study found that reduced levels of the protein produced by the SULT1A1 gene, which plays an important role in the metabolism of cancer-causing agents, lowered the risk of breast cancer.
The team says the next step is developing a risk-reducing drug.
Prophylactic drug treatments are becoming well-established for the prevention of different diseases.
For example, aspirin, statins, and anti-hypertensive therapies have had a major impact on reducing the incidence of cardiovascular disease and extending life expectancy.
By comparison, progress in therapeutic intervention to prevent breast cancer has been poor.
Providing a non-invasive and easily accessible preventative therapy for women at high risk of developing breast cancer would have numerous benefits for the health system, and for the patients and their whānau [extended family].
If you care about cancer, please read studies about a major cause of deadly breast cancer, and new cancer vaccines could prevent cancer recurrence.
For more information about cancer, please see recent studies about drug combo that may stop spread of cancer, and results showing vitamin D supplements strongly reduces cancer death.
The study was conducted by Associate Professor Logan Walker et al and published in the journal Communications Biology.
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