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Mutat Res. 2000 Apr;462(2-3):167-78.

The ATM gene and breast cancer: is it really a risk factor?

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  • 1International Agency for Research on Cancer, Unit of Mechanisms of Carcinogenesis, 150 cours Albert Thomas, 69372, Lyon, France.


The genetic determinants for most breast cancer cases remain elusive. Whilst mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 significantly contribute to familial breast cancer risk, their contribution to sporadic breast cancer is low. In such cases genes frequently altered in the general population, such as the gene mutated in Ataxia telangiectasia (AT), ATM may be important risk factors. The initial interest in studying ATM heterozygosity in breast cancer arose from the findings of epidemiological studies of AT families in which AT heterozygote women had an increased risk of breast cancer and estimations that 1% of the population are AT heterozygotes. One of the clinical features of AT patients is extreme cellular sensitivity to ionising radiation. This observation, together with the finding that a significant proportion of breast cancer patients show an exaggerated acute or late normal tissue reactions after radiotherapy, has lead to the suggestion that AT heterozygosity plays a role in radiosensitivity and breast cancer development. Loss of heterozygosity in the region of the ATM gene on chromosome 11, has been found in about 40% of sporadic breast tumours. However, screening for ATM mutations in sporadic breast cancer cases, showing or not adverse effects to radiotherapy, has not revealed the magnitude of involvement of the ATM gene expected. Their size and the use of the protein truncation test to identify mutations limit many of these studies. This latter parameter is critical as the profile of mutations in AT patients may not be representative of the ATM mutations in other diseases. The potential role of rare sequence variants within the ATM gene, sometimes reported as polymorphisms, also needs to be fully assessed in larger cohorts of breast cancer patients and controls in order to determine whether they represent cancer and/or radiation sensitivity predisposing mutations.

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