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Cancer. 1992 Sep 15;70(6 Suppl):1747-54.

Genetic predisposition to breast cancer.

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  • 1Department of Medical Informatics, University of Utah Medical Center, Salt Lake City 84108.


Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women. Because metastatic breast cancer is an incurable disease, efforts to decrease breast cancer mortality have focused on early detection and improved treatment. Identification and analysis of a specific genetic susceptibility could permit detection of susceptible women and greatly increase the understanding of the initial step that eventually leads to cancer. Because susceptibility loci have been recognized as sites that often are altered during tumor progression, the identification and cloning of such loci could be important in developing cancer therapies. In this article, the progress being made in segregation analysis, linkage analysis, and cloning of breast cancer susceptibility loci is reviewed. The evidence for genetic inheritance is most consistent with dominant inheritance for at least three major susceptibility loci. Proliferative breast disease has been hypothesized to be an inherited lesion in breast cancer kindreds with both premenopausal and postmenopausal probands. Currently, there are many genetic markers for mapping the human genome. Technologic advances have progressed from restriction fragment length polymorphisms to highly polymorphic markers. Using this technology, breast cancer susceptibility in some kindreds with an early onset has been shown to be linked to chromosome 17q. Gene isolation eventually will follow with an increased understanding of the percentage of breast cancer cases that are a result of this genetic locus. Li-Fraumeni syndrome, which often is expressed as breast cancer, is due to mutations in the p53 gene. Characterization of the syndrome and its relationship to the altered gene should proceed rapidly. There is also a group of families exhibiting a genetic susceptibility that is not due to either of these loci. Together, these findings indicate that there are at least three separate major loci segregating for breast cancer susceptibility. With the current initiative to map and sequence the entire human genome and the advances that recently have been reported, a detailed molecular understanding of breast cancer predisposition can be envisaged.

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