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Sunday, 13 May, 2001, 23:05 GMT 00:05 UK
Simple test for cancer gene
DNA spiral
Gene testing for BRCA is currently expensive and time-consuming
Genes which increase the chances of a woman developing breast cancer might be spotted early by a simple, cheap test.

Mutated versions of the two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, increase the risk by up to 80% over a lifetime - depending on whether a woman has one or both of them.

Until now, the only way of confirming the presence of BRCA mutations was expensive and time-consuming genetic testing.

Most women who could possibly have the damaged genes never undergo screening for this reason.

However, scientists at Jefferson Medical College and University in Philadelphia, believe they have found a way of indicating the presence of the gene mutations without the need for this.

Their work was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology in San Francisco.

They have developed an antibody test for the body chemical, or protein, which is produced by the healthy version of BRCA1.

The antibody seeks out this protein and locks onto it.

Encouraging results

If the test proves negative, it suggests that the protein is not being produced properly, which is a clue that the BRCA1 gene may not be normal.

Early tests of the antibody test have proved encouraging.

A group of 118 breast cancer patients were genetically tested for the mutation - and 22 had it.

When these 22 were given the new test, the wrong result was delivered in only one case.

At this point, a woman can undergo the more complex genetic test to confirm the presence of the mutated gene.

Even if the woman knows she has a family history of breast cancer, which increases her own risk of developing it, it is useful to know whether BRCA1 or BRCA2 is present in its mutated form.

Dr Bruce Turner, assistant professor of radiation oncology at Jefferson, said: "Patients with breast cancer who have mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 may be better candidates for certain types of therapy.

"For example, they may be better candidates for mastectomy than lumpectomy and radiation therapy - also known as breast-conserving therapy.

"Those patients electing breast conserving therapy need to have constant monitoring not only of their treated breast but also their other breast if they don't have a mastectomy on that side, and also of their ovaries."

A larger study is being organised to check the efficacy of the test.

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See also:

19 Apr 01 | Health
Gene testing: who benefits?
24 Oct 00 | Health
Breast gene radiation fears eased
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