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Gene Test Will Narrow Down Breast Cancer Risks, Scientists Say

A gene test that tells women what their risks are for developing breast cancer could soon be used on high-risk candidates.

Researchers from Manchester said that the test could narrow the risks and reduce the number of women who undergo surgery to remove their breasts, the BBC reports. The test looks at 18 genetic variants on blood or saliva that are known to affect a woman’s chances of getting breast cancer.

Called the Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) test, this will soon be available for patients getting tested at St. Mary’s Hospital and Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester. The test will examine BRCA1 and 2 gene mutations in patients with a family history of breast cancer.

BRCA has been nicknamed the “Angelina Jolie gene” after the actress publicly revealed that she had undergone a mastectomy after learning that she was at 87% risk of developing breast cancer. While this is the figure given to all women with a BRCA gene mutation, experts say that cancer risks are more complicated than that, and vary from person to person.

Gareth Evans, who led the research into the test at Manchester University Foundation Trust, said that patients with a BRCA mutation may have a risk between the wide range of 30 to 90%. Narrowing down individual chances will provide women with better information, so that they may make the proper choices regarding surgery.

The test results can be combined with information on breast density, factors such as age the woman gave birth – all of which can pinpoint percentage risks of developing breast cancer within 10 years, and throughout their lifetime.

Evans is hopeful that the test can soon become widely available, eventually allowing all women to check on their risks. He said,

This is a massive game changer for breast cancer where we now have tests which can give accurate risk in the whole population, those with a family history and those with BRCA mutations.

Evans and his team have been working with researchers at Cambridge University, along with members from the USA, Australia and Europe to examine samples from 60,000 women. They hope to improve the gene test to include more variants that contribute to breast cancer chances.

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