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McLaren Port Huron Breast Health News for Winter 2011


McLaren Port Huron, Port Huron, Michigan, Breast Health News for Winter 2011

Earlier Breast Cancer Diagnosis for Some Women

Better screening may be one reason that women with BRCA mutations are being diagnosed with breast cancer earlier today than in previous generations. Another reason is that the mutation may trigger the cancer at an earlier age.

Photo of smiling woman

In a recent study, researchers found a difference of about eight years between the average age of diagnosis in the older generation of women vs. the younger generation.

Jennifer Litton, M.D., at the University of Texas, looked at two generations of families that had BRCA-related cancers. Her research included 132 women diagnosed with a BRCA-positive breast cancer, 106 of whom had a family member of an earlier generation who had also been diagnosed with a BRCA-related breast or ovarian cancer.

About 8-year difference

In the analysis, the median age for the older generation at diagnosis was 48. The median age for the younger generation was 42. A statistical analysis of the data estimated the age difference for the two groups as a whole at 7.9 years.

Dr. Litton says that several factors could explain the earlier age of diagnosis. One factor is a phenomenon called "anticipation." It refers to diseases occurring at younger ages or with increased severity with each generation. This is because the genes involved in the disease evolve and change.

Another factor is better screening tests that find cancers at an earlier age, she says.

Other factors

Environmental and reproductive factors may also play a role, says Jeffrey Weitzel, M.D., at City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif. For instance, a woman whose menstrual periods started later -- which was often the case with older generations -- is at lower risk for breast cancer than a woman whose period started at a younger age.

The women in the study could have reported the incorrect age of diagnosis for an older family member, Dr. Weitzel says.

"It's important to continue to follow this [research] forward and validate it in bigger studies with more women involved," Dr. Litton says.

Early detection important

The study results should inspire younger women with BRCA mutations to follow screening guidelines, Dr. Weitzel says.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network says that screening should begin at age 20 to 25 for women at risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer because of the BRCA gene mutations, or five to 10 years earlier than the youngest age of diagnosis in the family.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(McLaren Port Huron is not responsible for the content of the following Internet sites.)

American Association for Clinical Chemistry - BRCA-1 and BRCA-2

American Cancer Society - Can Breast Cancer Be Prevented?

National Cancer Institute - BRCA1 and BRCA2: Cancer Risk and Genetic Testing


Winter 2011

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What are BRCA1 and BRCA2?

Each year, more than 192,000 American women learn they have breast cancer. Five to 10 percent of these women have a hereditary form of the disease. Changes in certain genes make some women more susceptible to developing breast and other types of cancer. Inherited alterations in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 (short for breast cancer 1 and breast cancer 2) are involved in many cases of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Researchers are searching for other genes that may also increase a woman's cancer risk.

The likelihood that breast and/or ovarian cancer is associated with BRCA1 or BRCA2 is highest in families with:

  • A history of multiple cases of breast cancer

  • Cases of both breast and ovarian cancer

  • One or more family members with two primary cancers (original tumors at different sites)

  • An Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish background

Not every woman in such families carries an alteration in BRCA1 or BRCA2, and not every cancer in such families is linked to alterations in these genes.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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