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Decoding Genes to find Breast Cancer

August 7, 2014
Today, August 7, 2014, researchers at the University Medical Center Utrecht announced that they have identified a gene that puts women at higher risk for breast cancer. Through animal and patient database studies, researchers found that women with an anomaly on the MEN1 gene are three times more likely to develop breast cancer at a relatively young age. Their findings are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
MEN1 is the acronym for Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia type 1, a rare hereditary disease in which a mutation of the MEN1 gene on chromosome 11 makes patients susceptible to developing both benign and malignant tumors on hormone-producing organs such as the parathyroid gland, the pancreas and the pituitary gland.

Animal studies previously linked this gene mutation with breast cancer; and the researchers further conducted an analysis of the ‘DutchMEN1 Study Group’ database. This database includes 90 percent of all MEN1 patients which were 16 years or older living in the Netherlands; this individual study incorporated 190 women with the MEN1 gene.

Researchers concluded that the average age of diagnosis of breast cancer with this gene abnormality was 48 years old, as compared with an age of 60 to 65 years in the general population. Studies in the United States, Tasmania, and France support UMC’s findings; with a total of 675 women with the MEN1 anomaly. Right now there are 400 patients in the Netherlands with this mutation.

Breast cancer is a leading killer for women. Besides skin cancer, it is the most commonly diagnosed cancer; breast cancer is also the 2nd deadliest type of cancer, right behind lung cancer. About 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. Even though this study does not offer a cure, it may provide future scientists with information that can help defeat this devastating disease and it may provide patients the chance to perform early action treatment.
 “It is important that women with the MEN1 syndrome now know that they have to be aware that they run the risk of developing breast cancer, because early treatment is always better,” said Prof. Dr. Elsken van der Wall, a medical oncologist working for the UMC Utrecht Cancer Center.