Health

Six new breast cancer-susceptibility genes found

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Error in genes can increase individual's chances of developing breast cancer

The discovery of six new cancer-susceptibility genes grew out of more than 10 years of research by Alan D’Andrea into Fanconi anemia, a condition known to affect only 500 families in the United States. Children born with the condition usually develop bone marrow failure early in life, leaving them unable to produce oxygen-carrying red blood cells. If they survive into young adulthood — often with the help of a bone marrow transplant — they’re at risk for a variety of cancers — most often leukemia, but also tumors of the brain, head and neck, breast, colon, and other parts of the body. In a study published online by the journal Science, D’Andrea and his colleagues reported that an error in any of the half-dozen genes involved in Fanconi anemia can increase an individual’s chances of developing breast cancer. “This work is a prime example of how research into rare conditions can lead to better diagnosis and treatment for people with far more common diseases,” D’Andrea explained. D’Andrea is Ted Williams Senior Investigator at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund.