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Family history indicative of breast cancer risk

Women with a first-degree relative who suffered from either breast or ovarian cancer have a higher risk of developing the disease, according to Australian scientists.

Current research not only reveals a link between the two cancers but that genetics rather than lifestyle factors have a greater role in determining the likelihood of breast or ovarian cancer development.

A number of these genes have already been identified, with some known to be more influential in cancer development, which explains why some families are more likely to be affected than others.

Dr Georgia Chenevix-Trench, Head of Cancer Genetics at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR), says this study may lead to better screening methods, treatments and prevention.

“By identifying these genes, we can determine who is at greater risk and regularly monitor them for any signs of cancer development,” Dr Chenevix-Trench said.

“This may mean that patients can take action sooner and possibly avoid the heart-ache of going through surgery and post-operative treatment.”

QIMR research has confirmed that a family history of breast and ovarian cancer greatly increases the likelihood of women developing the disease.

“Inherited predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer is caused in part by mutations in the genes known as BRAC1 and BRAC2,” said Dr Chenevix-Trench.

Current screening methods for breast cancer such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be expensive, often costing up to $1,000, and whilst mammograms are recommended for women 40 years and over, they can be ineffective for younger women because of their breast density.

QIMR scientists are now examining the different mutations of genes linked to both cancers, the different biochemical pathways these genes operate in and how they interact with the body.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Australian women, with one in 12 contracting the disease, resulting in 2,500 deaths each year.

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common, with approximately 1,200 new cases every year, causing some 700 deaths annually.