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Women With BRCA Mutations Get Cancer Diagnosis Earlier Than Before
Date:9/12/2011

screening begin at age 20 to 25 for women at risk of 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.

Another expert agreed that better screening and earlier diagnosis, among other factors, may well explain the earlier age at diagnosis.

"This may have nothing to do with genetic anticipation," said Dr. Jeffrey Weitzel, chief of the division of clinical cancer genetics at City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif.

The factors explaining the earlier onset in the women with BRCA mutations could be the same ones that explain trends in the general population, Weitzel added. "But in high-risk women, it is magnified."

Genetic anticipation involves a process in which genes actually evolve and the underlying structure of the DNA changes, he said.

Environmental factors and reproductive factors may also play a role, he said. For instance, a woman whose menstrual periods started later -- which was often the case with older generations -- is at lower risk of breast cancer than a woman whose period started at a younger age.

The women in the study reporting the age at diagnosis of an older family member could also have reported incorrectly, he noted.

The results should inspire younger women with BRCA mutations to follow screening guidelines, which "have taken this observation [about earlier diagnosis] into account already," Weitzel said.

Women today, he added, "have access to what your grandmother didn't have. We have better screening technology."

The risk for women with a BRCA mutation developing breast cancer is as high as 80 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

More information

To learn more about breast cancer and BRCA mutations, visit the American C
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