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Monday, 7 October, 2002, 23:02 GMT 00:02 UK
Potential breast cancer gene found
Mammogram
Nine out of 10 breast cancers are not obviously "familial"
A gene that may contribute to breast cancer in many women has been identified by US researchers.

It is thought nine in 10 breast cancers are "sporadic" - appearing in women who have no obvious family history of breast cancer.

Only a few possible missing or mutated genes have so far been found to link these women. Most doctors believe there are likely to be combinations of several factors, both genetic and environmental, at play in many of cases.


I want everybody to study this gene

Dr Masaaki Hamaguchi, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
However, scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York State, US, believe they have found a previously unknown gene, which, when absent, may increase the risk of breast cancer.

In their study of laboratory specimens, they found the new gene DBC2, was either missing or not working in three out of five cancer samples taken from women with sporadic cancer.

And they found that, when the protein made as a result of the gene was introduced into cancer cells, it either killed them or stopped them growing.

This suggests that DBC2 could be a potent "tumour suppressor gene" in some breast cancer patients.

It could potentially mean that treatments derived from the gene's protein could have an impact on the disease in some cases.

But the researchers say much more investigation is needed before this can be said with any certainty.

'Promising'

Dr Masaaki Hamaguchi, from the laboratory, told BBC News Online that he felt the gene was "very important" in the development of sporadic breast cancer.

"I want everybody to study this gene."

He said that the potential for a new treatment was the most promising aspect of the find.

"What's important is that this gene appears to be able to suppress breast cancer cells."

He said that while the project suggested that the absence of the gene was necessary before breast cancer could develop, it might not be the only factor.

Dr Hamaguchi said that it was likely that the absence of the gene would have to be combined with other cancer-causing factors before a woman would actually develop the disease.

However, British expert Dr Doug Easton from Cambridge University said that while the finding was "interesting", a great deal more research would need to be done before the true significance of the gene could be uncovered.

He said: "Many of the deletions cover more than one gene - and inactivation of the gene is something that could have happened as a secondary effect."

Genetic history

Researchers involved in this project have a history of identifying other cancer genes.

In 1990, the group discovered the first ever gene linked to hereditary breast cancer, the BRCA1 gene.

Since then, others have found the BRCA2 gene - having either of these increases the chance that a woman with a family history of breast cancer will fall prey to the disease herself.

Having both in combination increases the risk even more.

Doctors do know that smoking increases the risk of breast cancer in addition to raising lung cancer risk.

More than 30,000 women develop breast cancer in the UK every year.

Roughly a third do not survive the illness.

The fall in smoking has turned breast cancer into the most common cancer among women in the UK.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

See also:

15 Jul 02 | Talking Point
11 Jul 02 | Health
15 Mar 02 | Health
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