Sat 20 Apr 2013
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A large international effort by more than 1,000 scientists has revealed scores of genetic markers that can identify people most likely to develop the diseases. In the future a relatively cheap test using saliva which contains cells and thus DNA could be used to identify individuals who are at higher than average risk for developing these diseases.
A test based on genetic markers for prostate cancer could identify men whose lifetime risk was 50%, nearly five times the average. More importantly, some of the genetic markers identified are associated with the more aggressive and life-threatening forms of the disease which currently can only be identified using prostate biopsies.
A similar investigation into breast cancer found markers that can identify women who have a 30% chance of developing the disease, more than three times the national average. Some of the faults were only predictive of the most aggressive, and dangerous, form of the cancer, called oestrogen receptor negative breast cancer. Women who carry mutations in genes called BRCA are already known to have a substantially higher risk of breast cancer, at around 65%. But the latest study shows that women who have a BRCA mutation, and carry many of the newly-discovered gene defects, are 80% more likely to develop the disease.
However it is not clear yet how best to use this type of information. People identified as being at higher risk still need other screening tests to find out if they have actually developed a cancer. Current screening tests for both prostate and breast cancer are far from perfect; see our previous news article on cancer screening. Trials are taking place to work out the best way to use the tests, and how any screening programmes might work, or be modified where screening already exists.
The Huffington Post