Powerful New Cancer Gene Discovered

Common Gene May Increase Cancer Risk by 26%

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on August 28, 2003
From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 28, 2003 -- Nearly one in eight people may have a gene that could increase their overall risk of cancer by 26%, according to a new study.

Researchers found that a common genetic mutation known as TGFBR1*6A (Transforming Growth Factor Beta Receptor 1*6A) may be the first cancer gene that affects a variety of ethnic groups and is responsible for thousands of new cancer cases each year in the U.S.

Their study showed that having the gene increases a person's risk of breast cancer by 48%, ovarian cancer by 53%, and colon cancer by 38%.

"This is an exciting finding because TGFBR1*6A is a common gene that may cause a large number of cancers. In the near future, it will be commonplace for people to know what genes make them more susceptible to cancer, and we'll have many more options for preventing those cancers," says researcher Boris Pasche, MD, PhD, director of the Northwestern Cancer Center's Genetics Program, in a news release.

New Cancer Gene on the Map

"These findings should put TGFBR1*6A on the map with better known cancer susceptibility genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 that have been implicated in an estimated 5 to 10 percent of all breast and ovarian cancers," says Pasche.

In the study, which appears in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, researchers analyzed the results of seven published studies on cancer genes. They found that TGFBR1*6A was responsible for about 7% of all breast cancers, nearly 11% of all ovarian cancers, and 5.5% of all colon cancers among a variety of ethnic groups.

Pasche says that when this cancer gene is present, it makes people more likely to have certain cells grow and divide uncontrollably, which may contribute to cancer development.

The study suggests that one in eight healthy individuals may have the cancer gene, and one in six people with cancer has the gene.

More Genetic Testing May Be on the Way

Researchers say testing for the TGFBR1*6A gene is currently only available at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago as part of ongoing research. But they say testing for this cancer gene will likely enter the mainstream of genetic testing in the near future.


When a cancer gene that is known to increase the risk of cancer is detected in an individual, the person can be counseled about ways to reduce their risk, such as quitting smoking and living a healthy lifestyle.

In addition, people who test positive for cancer genes are advised to have more frequent cancer screening that can catch cancers at their earliest and most treatable stages.

WebMD Health News


SOURCES: Journal of Clinical Oncology, Sept. 1, 2003. News release, Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

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