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Saturday, 29 September, 2001, 23:25 GMT 00:25 UK
Breast cancer gene queries surge
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month
The last decade has seen a dramatic rise in the number of women wanting to know if they are genetically at a greater risk of developing breast cancer.

The Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) says its six family cancer clinics have been inundated as more women want to find out if their family history of breast cancer means they are at greater risk.

A decade ago, just a handful of people were referred to the clinics with a family history of cancer.

Now, around a third of referrals have a family history, and women whose mothers, aunts, sisters, or grandmothers have suffered from the disease form the majority of cases.

The six clinics received about 500 referrals each last year.

All log information on all the patients they see for the British Familial Cancer Record (BFCR).

Awareness month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, where cancer charities try to raise the profile of the disease.

The Cancer Research Campaign is stressing the importance of women regularly checking their breasts so they can quickly notice any changes.

And it says breast screening is crucial for women over 50.

Breakthrough Breast Cancer will be issuing a "myth-busting card", and revealing what women know about the disease.

Breast cancer killed just over 13,000 people, including 100 men, in 1999.

One in nine women will develop breast cancer at some point in their life.

Around five to 10% of breast cancer cases are due to hereditary factors

There are two breast cancer genes which scientists can test for, BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Gene key

Having these genetic alterations can increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer, especially at a young age, by up to 80% over a lifetime.

It can also increase a woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Dr Anneke Lucassen, of the ICRF family cancer clinic at Southampton's Princess Anne Hospital, said: "With public awareness of the possibility of cancer running in the family at an all time high, more and more women who have lost close family members to breast cancer are coming to the clinic to be assessed.

"The vast majority of breast cancer is not inherited, so we can reassure many of the women referred that cases of breast cancer in their family are more likely to be down to chance, rather than a strong inherited risk."

The quest for genetic answers to why women develop breast cancer was advanced by the human genome earlier this year.

But scientists still need to work out how genetics interact with environmental factors such as diet.

Cancer experts add more also needs to be done to work out how best to help women deal with the psychological issues involved in genetic screening.

See also:

26 Sep 01 | Health
Mothers avoid breast cancer chat
17 Mar 00 | C-D
Breast Cancer
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