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More young women with cancer having BRCA testing

22 February 2016

By Helen Robertson

Appeared in BioNews 840

More than 95 percent of younger women diagnosed with early-onset breast cancer are opting for genetic testing, a new study has found.

The rate of testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations among US breast cancer patients aged 40 or under increased from around 70 percent in 2007 to more than 95 percent in 2013.

'The rates of testing in this population are probably higher than what you see in other populations, but it's still nice to see the improvement and more women having the opportunity to get tested,' said Dr Ann Partridge of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, lead author of the study published in JAMA Oncology.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women under the age of 40 in the United States. Women who have mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are at an increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, and to have recurrent cancer following treatment.

The researchers collected data in the United States between 2006 and 2014 as part of an ongoing study into young women with breast cancer. Their analysis focused on 897 women diagnosed with cancer at age 40 or under, and their decision to undergo genetic testing up to one year after their diagnosis.

In total, across the eight years of the study, 87 percent of women involved in the study had genetic testing. Of these, 59 had a mutation at BRCA1, and 35 had a BRCA2 mutation.

Identifying these mutations can help to inform treatment options and may influence the decision to have preventative surgery. Half of those tested who did not have a mutation chose to have a bilateral mastectomy to remove both breasts, compared with 86 percent of those carrying a mutation. Carriers of the mutation were also more likely to have undergone a salpingo-oophorectomy (ovary removal) than women who were not carriers.

It is hoped that this increase in test uptake reflects greater social awareness and acceptability of testing for genetic predisposition to the disease. In 2013 the actress and director Angelina Jolie announced that she had chosen to undergo a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction as a result of carrying the BRCA1 mutation, which is thought to have contributed to an increase in testing – both in the United States and across the world (see BioNews 722).

The authors recognise that the high uptake observed might be attributed to the high socioeconomic status of the study participants, and Dr Partridge highlighted that removing barriers to testing remained a priority for the future: 'The recommendations are to test every woman with breast cancer under 40, for sure.'

Improving genetic counselling availability across different economic groups and underrepresented minorities would ensure that more patients have access to the benefits conferred by genetic testing. 'We know we can reduce morbidity and mortality if we have the knowledge,' said Dr Jeffrey Weitzel of the City of Hope cancer centre in Duarte, California, who co-authored an editorial published alongside the study.

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

13 February 2017 - by Hannah Somers 
A study has indicated that US doctors may not be recommending genetic testing to a sufficient number of high-risk breast cancer patients...
19 December 2016 - by Anastassia Bolotkova 
Angelina Jolie's 2013 public announcement that she has the BRCA1</i> breast cancer gene led to a 64 percent increase in women seeking genetic testing for breast cancer...
12 September 2016 - by Anastassia Bolotkova 
The FDA has warned that it does not recommend the use of any currently available ovarian cancer screening tests to detect the disease...
18 July 2016 - by Hannah Somers 
Researchers have developed a new pathway for genetically testing ovarian cancer patients which they say will save both lives and money...
11 July 2016 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
Genetic mutations on several genes including BRCA2 have been associated with prostate cancer; while in a separate study, a BRCA1 mutation has been linked to a particular form of uterine cancer...

12 October 2015 - by Cait McDonagh 
An isolated gene sequence cannot be patented, Australia's highest court has unanimously ruled. It is the latest and final decision in litigation that has lasted over five years...
08 June 2015 - by Jenny Sharpe 
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30 March 2015 - by Sophie McLachlan 
In an article in the New York Times, Angelina Jolie has revealed her decision to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, in her on-going battle to reduce her risk of cancer...
22 September 2014 - by Jessica Ware 
The number of women in the UK being referred to breast cancer clinics doubled shortly after actress Angelina Jolie revealed she had a risk-reducing double mastectomy, a study has found....
31 March 2014 - by Dr Caroline Dalton 
As we learn more, and as technologies develop, there are continuing challenges for the NHS to meet in providing the best possible care for people at risk of familial breast cancer...

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