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Your Environment. Your Health.

Younger Women's Ovarian Cancers More Likely to Be Inherited

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

News Release

Archive - New Contact Information

For more information about this archival news release, please contact Christine Flowers, Director, Office of Communications & Public Liaison at (919) 541-3665.
Tuesday, April 16, 1996, 12:00 p.m. EDT
Contact: Bill Grigg, NIEHS
(301) 402-3378

Inherited mutations of the breast cancer gene BRCA1 may cause10-20 percent of ovarian cancers in women under 50, researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences reported today.

The percentage is two to four times that found in women with ovarian cancer at all ages, according to the researchers at NIEHS, a part of the National Institutes of Health. The study is in the April17 Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Lead author of the report Johnathan Lancaster, a British physician,arrived at NIEHS as a visiting researcher in 1994 at about the time it was announcing the identification of BRCA1 (along with the University of Utah). Working at the Institute, Dr. Lancaster was a member of the international team that identified the second breast cancer gene, BRCA2. He has studied the role of both BRCA1and BRCA2 in sporadic, or non-familial, breast and ovarian cancers,which account for 90-95 percent of cases of the diseases.

His new study used a novel technique, which Dr. Lancaster developed to apply to BRCA1, called the protein truncation test (PTT), to search for mutations-a search that until now has been a difficult and time-consuming process. (This may be part of the reason why,despite extensive screening, only 16 BRCA1 mutations have been found in 267 sporadic ovarian cancers studied to date.)

In this pilot study with the new method, three of 16 patients diagnosed at a mean average age of 48 were found to have the altered gene. The women were being treated by the division of gynecology oncology at the Duke University Medical Center, which collaborated in the study. Most ovarian cancer is diagnosed in women over 50.

Although Dr. Lancaster says the finding needs confirmation ina larger study, he notes, "it does confirm the view of manyphysicians that early-onset cancers are more likely to be inherited.Thus, if a healthy woman tells her doctor her mother or sisterdied of breast cancer or ovarian cancer at a young age, he might see that as a clue that mutations in a gene such as BRCA1 maybe involved."

The researchers reporting in the journal include Charles Cochran,Heather A. Brownlee, and Roger W. Wiseman, head of the NIEHS ComparativeCarcinogenesis Group which made the 1994 identification of BRCA1.Collaborators from Duke University Medical Center were Craig Evansand Andrew Berchuck and P. Andrew Futreal, who participated in the 1994 isolation of BRCA1 while at NIEHS and in the 1995 isolation of BRCA2 while at Duke.

Although it is one of the National Institutes of Health and theNIH campus is in Bethesda, Md., NIEHS is located on its own 509-acrecampus in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Duke is nearby in Durham,N.C.

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