Gene Tests Up Among Young Breast Cancer Patients
New study finds nearly all women under 40 at diagnosis are opting for BRCA evaluation
By Amy Norton
THURSDAY, Feb. 11, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- A growing number of young women with breast cancer are being tested for the BRCA gene mutations that substantially raise the risks of breast and ovarian tumors, a new study shows.
Researchers found that of nearly 900 women who developed breast cancer at age 40 or younger, most had undergone BRCA testing within a year of their diagnosis.
And the percentage went up over time: By 2013, 95 percent had been tested, according to findings published online Feb. 11 in JAMA Oncology.
Experts called the results good news, since BRCA testing has long been recommended for women diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50.
"This is great, it's heartening," said Dr. Jeffrey Weitzel, director of clinical cancer genetics at City of Hope, in Duarte, Calif.
But, he added, women in the study were largely white, well-educated and had health insurance -- and it's unlikely that disadvantaged U.S. women would show the same high rate of BRCA testing.
"We need to keep working on extending the reach of genetic testing," said Weitzel, who co-wrote an editorial published with the study.
Media coverage following actress Angelina Jolie's disclosure that she carried the BRCA1 mutation has improved awareness about the testing and cancer preventive surgeries, previous research has suggested.
Jolie had both of her breasts removed in 2013 after learning she has the BRCA mutation. And, in 2015, she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed due to the significantly increased risk of ovarian cancer that stems from having the BRCA1 mutation. But, the authors of the new study note that the rise in gene testing among patients in this study largely predated Jolie's disclosure.
Inherited mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes account for 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers, and about 15 percent of all ovarian cancers, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
Since the mutations raise the risk of early cancer, women who develop either disease at a young age have a relatively higher chance of harboring the flawed genes.