Now, however, scientists have identified four more genes that increase breast cancer risk. The bad news is, one or more of these genes is found in a significantly higher percentage of the population than the BRCA genes. The good news is… well, let’s see, what IS the good news?
In a study funded by grants from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the American Cancer Society, researchers showed that mutations in four separate genes are more common in women with breast cancer than in a control group of cancer-free women. The study focused on one particular gene–FGFR2–which, if you’re of European ancestry and have inherited a particular variant from your parents, may increase your risk of breast cancer. Results of this study, undertaken by the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the NCI, were published May 27.
So, what does this mean for you… for all of us? “This is a truly landmark breakthrough for breast cancer research, because these genes are the first confirmed common genetic risk factors for breast cancer,” noted Singapore scientist Jianjun Liu, a participant in the study. Added Dr. David Hunter of Harvard, lead author of the study’s paper, “This finding opens up new avenues of research into the causes and prevention of breast cancer by identifying a new biological pathway relevant to risk of the disease.” In other words, identification of this gene is another big step in the long, laborious search for a breast cancer cure. You have to know what’s causing a problem before you can fix it; and FGFR2 appears to be a likely culprit.
Though just one of many, notes Dr. Teri Manolio, director of population genetics at the National Human Genome Research Institute. "There is no single breast cancer gene just as there is no single diabetes gene or prostate cancer gene,” he said. “What we have is many genes of small effect that, working together and with specific–and as yet largely unknown–environmental exposures, cause a woman to develop breast cancer." In other words, FGFR2 is just part of a much larger crowd. And, thankfully, at this point it doesn’t appear to carry nearly the risk that the BRCA genes do.