A simple blood test could offer many women an early warning of breast cancer even if they do not inherit genes linked to the disease. Scientists have identified a molecular “switch” in blood samples that increases a woman’s chances of having breast cancer.
The marker is associated with the BRCA1 breast cancer gene, but was also found in women without the mutation who went on to develop the disease. Around 10 per cent of breast cancers are caused by BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene variants inherited from parents, leaving 90per cent of cases unexplained.
A woman with the BRCA1 gene has an 85 per cent risk of developing breast cancer, leading some carriers to take the drastic step of breast removal. But until now there has been no reliable way of predicting the likelihood of non-inherited breast cancer. The “switch” discovered by scientists is part of the process by which certain molecules acting on DNA cause genes to be turned on or off.
“We identified an epigenetic signature in women with a mutated BRCA1 gene that was linked to increased cancer risk and lower survival rates,”lead researcher Professor Martin Widschwendter, from University College London, said.
“Surprisingly, we found the same signature in large cohorts of women without the BRCA1 mutation and it was able to predict breast cancer risk several years before diagnosis.