May 2 - A molecular change that switches genes on or off can pre-empt the onset of breast cancer decades before the disease develops, British researchers say. The scientists hope the discovery will lead to a simple blood test that can determine vulnerability to the disease. Matthew Stock reports.
According to British researchers, a simple blood test to help identify women most at risk from breast cancer is now a real possibility. The scientists have discovered a strong association between vulnerability to the disease and a molecular change in a white blood cell gene called ATM They took blood samples from more than 1300 women, 640 of whom went on to develop the disease. Tests demonstrated that, in those women, there was a higher average incidence of methylation, a chemical proces that switches genes on and off. The methylation affect can be influenced by exposure to environmental factors such as radiation, alcohol, smoking or pollution. The results showed that women with the highest levels of methylation were twice as likely to develop breast cancer. Dr James Flanagan, of Imperial College London, led the new research. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR JAMES FLANAGAN, LEAD RESEARCHER FROM IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON, SAYING: "The hope is that we'll end up with a molecular profile of somebody's individual risk of disease so that they can then use that information to make preventative measures or make lifestyle changes if needed." The scientists say a blood test could potentially be developed to detect the genetic changes years in advance of the disease developing. People at greater risk could then be encouraged to adopt healthier lifestyles. Toral Shah had breast cancer when she was just 29-years-old. (SOUNDBITE) (English) TORAL SHAH, WHO HAD BREAST CANCER WHEN SHE WAS 29-YEARS-OLD, SAYING: "Lifestyle plays a huge part in whether you get cancer, particularly breast cancer. Smoking, exercise, being obese; and I think if you already know that your rate is doubled then you'd really look at monitoring your lifestyle when you're in your twenties or thirties." And by combining this new data with other information, like family history of the disease, more women could benefit from pre-emptive action. Matthew Stock, Reuters.