Hereditary cancer developing earlier, study finds

September 13, 2011 7:06:41 AM PDT
A new study suggests an alarming trend in breast cancer.

This was a specific study that looked at women with the so called breast cancer gene mutations.

But it confirmed what doctors have been noticing, that women with the genetic link are getting diagnosed at a younger age.

"I wanted to be around and watch her grow up and live a full life," said Jodi Kreizer.

Kreizer is expecting her little girl to be born in just a couple weeks. She and her friend Lisa both lost loved ones to breast cancer. So both women got tested for the genetic mutation that puts them more at risk.

"I have a 50-50 chance of passing this gene on to my daughter," she said.

Having a mutation in the brca1 or brca2 gene increases a woman's risk of breast cancer by about five times.

A new study finds that women with that genetic mutation are being diagnosed with breast cancer 8 years earlier than previous generations.

Researchers from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas studied 106 women, they all carried one or both of the mutated breast cancer genes and had an older relative, a mother or an aunt, who'd been diagnosed with breast cancer.

The women in the study, on average, were diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 42. Their older relatives had been diagnosed on average at age 48.

The reason for the difference is not clear.

"It may be that there's some interaction between these abnormal genes and something else either a genetic or environmental factor that producers this picture," said Dr. Freya Schnabel.

Dr. Schnabel is the director of breast surgery at the NYU Cancer Institute. She was not involved in the study but says better screening and diagnostic testing could also play a role in the earlier diagnosis.

"The older generation of women may not have been screened as much that may have delayed their diagnosis for breast cancer," she adds.

What's needed next is a larger study that follows women over time. But in the meantime the message from this study is to know your family history. If several women in your family were diagnosed at a young age, then talk to a genetic counselor about the pros and cons of testing for that brca mutation.

If you have the mutations its recommended that you start screening 10 years before your youngest affected relative. So if your mother was diagnosed at 40, you should start at 30. This new study supports that recommendation.