For women with BRCA mutation, diagnosis comes earlier in the younger generation

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In a new study comparing the difference in the age at breast cancer diagnosis between older and younger generations of women with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast cancer gene mutations, researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center found that breast cancer is diagnosed about eight years earlier in the younger women.

Lead study author Dr. Jennifer Litton suggests that the earlier diagnosis could be attributed to either advances in screening methods or a genetic phenomenon known as anticipation. As ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross explains, Anticipation means that a hereditary disease is present in a greater fraction of the children than in their parents who also had the condition. In this case, women who have mothers or aunts with the BRCA mutations might develop the disease at an earlier age or suffer from a more severe form.

Currently, women with BRCA mutations are advised to begin screening at age 25, or sometimes even younger. Dr. Ross doesn t believe the study s findings will change the current standard of care in the near future. As the authors acknowledge, a larger, prospective study will be necessary to validate whether anticipation is really occurring.

The study, which was published in the journal Cancer, also points out that women with a BRCA mutation have a 60 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer, while the risk among the general population is 12 percent.