The Single Nucleotide Polymorphism test, which looks at 18 genetic variations known to affect the odds of developing breast cancer, is conducted on blood or saliva, and could reduce the number of women undergoing mastectomies.
The BRCA gene has been dubbed the “Angelina Jolie gene.” She revealed that she had a mastectomy after learning that she had an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer.
Women with the BRCA mutation have a 30-90 percent risk of developing breast cancer, said Prof. Gareth Evans, who is leading the research into the test at the Manchester University Foundation Trust. The test will better inform women about whether to undergo a mastectomy, Evans added.
Women are given a percentage chance of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years and throughout their lifetime by combining the test’s results with data on breast density and the age a woman has children or reaches puberty.
Becky Measures, a radio presenter on Peak FM, had to remove a breast at the age of 24 soon after finding out that she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation. She also learned that she has to remove her womb and ovaries in the next four months.
“When they find that they have the BRCA1 or 2 gene, many women fear that they have to take action immediately,” said Measures. “The new test will give women more options and help them make a more informed decision.”
The test should be made widely available, said Evans, as it allows women to learn their likelihood of developing breast cancer. “This is a massive game-changer for breast cancer,” he said.
The team of researchers plan to look at samples from 60,000 women by working with Cambridge University and researchers in the US, Australia and Europe.
The team hopes to improve the gene test within two years to include up to 300 genetic variants that affect the likelihood of developing the disease.
The team is also researching whether the test can be used to understand how genes affect the risk of developing other forms of cancer, such as prostate, uterine, ovarian, lung and colorectal.
It could be useful to people with the BRCA gene mutation who have a high risk of developing ovarian cancer.
“The more we learn about the genetic components behind these increased risks of developing breast cancer in women who have a family history of the disease, the better the choice they can make about their health,” the BBC quoted Dr. Justine Alford, senior science communications officer at Cancer Research UK, as saying.
Helping women with no family history of breast cancer who may still have a genetic risk of developing the disease is next on the list, said Lester Barr, chairman of Prevent Breast Cancer, a Manchester-based charity that funded some of the research.