Breast cancer risk test inches closer to reality

Breast cancer affects millions of women worldwide, so predicting whether a patient will get the disease would prove quite a game changer. Now, findings from a study evaluating the association between DNA methylation in white blood cells and the risk of breast cancer might just lead to a genetic test for the disease. The findings have been published in the journal Cancer Research.

The research, which was funded by the Breast Cancer Campaign, examined the blood samples of 1,380 women to determine whether the alteration of single genes through methylation can predict an increased breast cancer risk. The test examines how genes are affected by environmental factors, a process known as epigenetics, the BBC notes.

According to the researchers, those women with the highest amount of methylation were twice as likely to get breast cancer as women with the lowest amount of one area of a gene called ATM. What's more, changes were apparent up to 11 years before a breast tumor was diagnosed in some women.

Now the researchers hope that the test, when used with other tools like genetic testing and risk factor profiling, could identify those at higher risk. "We hope that this research is just the beginning of our understanding about the epigenetic component of breast cancer risk and in the coming years we hope to find many more examples of genes that contribute to a person's risk," explained Dr. James Flanagan of Imperial College London, who led the research. "The challenge will be how to incorporate all of this new information into the computer models that are currently used for individual risk prediction."

- check out the study abstract
- get more from the Breast Cancer Campaign
- read the BBC report