Policy & Regulation
Presence of BRCA genes has no impact on survival rates of women under 40 with breast cancer
12 January 2018 -

A new study has found that breast cancer survival rates were the same in young women with and without faulty BRCA genes. According to the BBC on Friday, the study implies that while women who are diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age tend to have a poorer outlook, the presence of the BRCA gene does not have a bearing on survival.

The researchers behind the study hope that it can be used in the future to assist women and their doctors in making informed choices about treatment. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are usually responsible for generating molecules inside cells that help to repair DNA.

However, they can turn cancerous when faults emerge, resulting in the development of breast and ovarian cancers. Mutations in these genes stop DNA from repairing itself. Additionally, women who have had breast cancer in the past are more likely to be diagnosed for a second time if they carry the faulty gene.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 increase a woman's risk of breast cancer by four-to-eightfold. It has been called the 'Angelina Jolie gene' in the media, after the actress had a double mastectomy as preventative surgery after learning she had an up to 87% chance of developing breast cancer.

The study

The study included 2,733 women across 127 hospitals in the UK who had been diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 40 or below. Participants were then tested for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene faults using a blood sample.

Researchers followed the patients for an average of eight years. They found that there were similar survival across women in the study, irrespective of their BRCA status.

"No other study has followed a group of patients from diagnosis over a long period of time to discover if carrying a high-risk inherited BRCA gene alters the likelihood of being cured of breast cancer," said lead researcher Professor Diana Eccles from the University of Southampton.

The researchers stated that the findings could have far reaching consequences, particularly in terms of the design of future clinical trials. Eccles added that the results could give women "more confidence and control" over decision making during treatment.

"Our data provides some reassurance that patients who are diagnosed with a BRCA gene fault as part of their cancer treatment journey can complete and recover from their breast cancer treatment, which is important," she said.

Fiona MacNeill, of the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, who was not part of the research, told the BBC: "This study can reassure young women with breast cancer, particularly those with triple negative cancer or who are BRCA carriers, that breast conservation with radiotherapy is a safe option in the first decade after diagnosis and double mastectomy is not essential or mandatory at initial treatment.

"In view of this, younger women with breast cancer can take time to discuss whether radical breast surgery is the right choice for them as part of a longer-term risk reducing strategy."



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