Study Finds 352 New Genetic Risk Indicators For Breast Cancer

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
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More than 247,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meaning at least one person you know has likely been affected by the disease. While genetic testing has already existed to identify certain inherited risks, the data just got a lot more clear.

A study published in Nature Genetics revealed more than 350 genetic risk indicators for breast cancer, making it the most comprehensive genetic map to date. 

What exactly does this mean?

Genetic variants distinguish one person from another through minor differences in DNA. In common cases, they determine hair and eye color, among other physical markers. In other cases, genetic variants can indicate disease susceptibility. 

Linking the new genetic variants to breast cancer "will help provide the most detailed picture yet of how differences in our DNA put some women at greater risk...of developing the disease," researchers said. 

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How did they find the variations?

They used fine-mapping studies, which allow scientists to better understand which genetic changes contribute to a disease, how they work, and predict which genes are involved in acquiring the disease. 

Researchers from more than 450 institutions worldwide teamed up to analyze the genetics specific to breast cancer. They studied DNA from 110,000 breast cancer patients and compared them to 90,000 healthy patients. 

Through the comparisons, researchers identified 352 risk variants that target at least 191 genes. 

Prior studies have linked DNA variants to breast cancer, but the exact genes involved were unknown. "We need this information as it gives us a better clue to what is driving the disease and hence how we might treat or even prevent it," said Laura Fachal, Ph.D.

What can they do with this information?

According to Alison Dunning, Ph.D., the vast number of newly discovered breast cancer genes will help scientists understand just how complex the disease is, and it builds a better picture of how the cancer arises. 

On their own, genetic variants hardly indicate or increase the susceptibility to breast cancer. But when combined, researchers can "'fine-tune' genetic testing to give women a much clearer picture of their genetic risk," according to researchers. 

With this knowledge, people can be more proactive about reducing their risks.

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