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Genome maps could help predict risk of breast cancer

13 September 2010
Appeared in BioNews 575

A group of international researchers have become the first to link the cumulative effects of SNP (single nucleotide polymorphisms) in genes responsible for the production of oestrogen, to a woman's risk of developing common breast and uterine cancers.

The study led by Dr Edison Liu from the Genome Institute of Singapore, recruited Finnish and Swedish women diagnosed with breast or uterine cancer and analysed their DNA for 239 known SNPs in 34 genes associated with the production and regulation of oestrogen.

When the scientists compared the women's genetic makeup to a group of healthy women, they identified 121 variations in 15 different genes. These SNPs were found to have a minimal effect independently, but when analysed collectively they significantly increased the risk of the women developing oestrogen-receptor (ER) positive cancer.

Discussing the findings Dr Liu suggested that 'It's like being dealt a bad hand in a poker game' but that the risk is 'greatly affected by other non-genetic factors like a woman's reproductive history'.

He later told the BBC that 'What we are finding here is potentially the genetic amplifiers for breast cancer in postmenopausal women which historically was considered not genetic in origin'.   

Nell Barrie from Cancer Research UK commenting on the study said 'This research brings us a step closer to understanding the many subtle genetic changes that interact to affect individual women's risk of these diseases', reported the BBC.

The findings were announced at the British Society for Human Genetics (BSHG) Annual Conference in Warwick last week.

Gene variations may have breast cancer role, team says
BBC News |  7 September 2010
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