New screening panel could target BRCA mutations common to Hispanic women

February 18, 2015 | by Nicole White

Although many Hispanic women face a high risk of mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes – increasing their risk of breast and ovarian cancer – screenings for these mutations can be prohibitively expensive in Mexico and other Latin American countries. As a result, too many women don't get the information they need to make informed health choices.

BRCA gene mutations in Hispanic women Many Hispanic women carry specific mutations in the BRCA genes. Now City of Hope researchers have developed a panel that could  spot  these BRCA mutations, helping them make more informed decisions.

City of Hope researchers may have found a solution to this problem: testing for the specific mutations most common in women of Hispanic descent.

In findings reported in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society, researchers reported that they were able to detect 68 percent of all BRCA mutations in a recent study's participants by using a HISPANEL – a test panel developed by Jeffrey Weitzel, M.D., director of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics at City of Hope. Further, by focusing on these specific mutations, rather than the full range of all possible BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, the cost of testing amounted to only 2 percent of the cost of testing for all BRCA mutations.

In addition, the study found a considerable number – 33 percent – of the mutations were caused by a specific BRCA mutation known as the Mexican founder mutation. This remarkable frequency could constitute a regional public health problem for Mexico City, where the study was conducted.

A less-expensive screening tool not only would increase the likelihood of women undergoing screening for breast cancer, the overall results ultimately could shape health care decisions in the area.

Because women with BRCA mutations are at greatly increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, a cost-effective genetic testing tool for breast and ovarian cancer prevention would allow them to be proactive about protecting their health. Women who know they are at greater risk can opt for more frequent cancer screenings, and in some cases may opt for prophylactic surgeries.

Read "Breast cancer genetic testing: How one family took control."

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Learn more about breast cancer treatment and breast cancer research at City of Hope.

Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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