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Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2004 Feb;13(2):205-12.

Increased prevalence of the HFE C282Y hemochromatosis allele in women with breast cancer.

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Department of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and VA Center for Health Services Research, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee, USA.


Individuals with the major hemochromatosis (HFE) allele C282Y and iron overload develop hepatocellular and some extrahepatic malignancies at increased rates. No association has been previously reported between the C282Y allele and breast cancer. We hypothesized that due to the pro-oxidant properties of iron, altered iron metabolism in C282Y carriers may promote breast carcinogenesis. Because 1 in 10 Caucasians of Northern European ancestry carries this allele, any impact it may have on breast cancer burden is potentially great. We determined C282Y genotypes in 168 patients who underwent high-dose chemotherapy and blood cell transplantation for cancer: 41 with breast cancer and 127 with predominantly hematological cancers (transplant cohort). Demographic, clinical, and tumor characteristics were reviewed in breast cancer patients. The frequency of C282Y genotypes in breast cancers was compared with the frequency in nonbreast cancers, an outpatient sample from Tennessee (n = 169), and a published United States national sample. The frequency of at least one C282Y allele in breast cancers was higher (36.6%, 5 homozygotes/10 heterozygotes) than frequencies in Tennessee (12.7%, P < 0.001), the general population (12.4%, P < 0.001), and similarly selected nonbreast cancers (17.0%, P = 0.008). The likelihood of breast cancer in the transplant cohort increased with C282Y allele dose (P(trend) = 0.010). These results were supported by the finding in a nontransplant cohort of a higher frequency of C282Y mutations in Caucasian (18.4%, P = 0.039) and African-American (8.5%, P = 0.005) women with breast cancer than race-specific national frequency estimates. A high prevalence of C282Y alleles in women with breast cancer with and without poor risk features suggests that altered iron metabolism in C282Y carriers may promote the development of breast cancer and/or more aggressive forms of the disease.

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