Breast Cancer Now responds to study suggesting familial breast cancer is not only inherited genetically.

Thursday 1 March 2018      Research
Study suggests familial breast cancer is not only inherited genetically

A study published today in Nature Communications has identified 24 new inherited epigenetic changes that can increase a woman's risk of breast cancer, which can be passed down through generations without involving changes in the DNA sequence of genes.

This study, carried out by researchers at the University of Melbourne, is the first to look at genome-wide studies of inheritable DNA methylation in the context of familial breast cancer.

Around half of familial breast cancer cases cannot be explained by what we already know about genetic risk, and this paper suggests that inherited methylation might account for some of those unexplained cases.

Holly Palmer, Research Communications Officer at Breast Cancer Now, said:

The discovery that these tiny epigenetic changes predisposing women to developing breast cancer could be passed down through families is really significant. While further research is needed to understand the role of DNA methylation, this early finding could ultimately help us provide women with a much clearer indication of their risk of breast cancer due to their family history.

“We currently do not understand enough about exactly why some women have a family history of breast cancer and are at greater risk themselves as a result, and it’s interesting that inherited patterns of DNA methylation could be responsible for some cases.

“Understanding the effects of these alterations that are passed down through generations without changing the DNA, could also help identify new ways to target breast cancer with novel therapies.

“We look forward to future studies to understand whether these epigenetic changes could be incorporated into existing tools to help women better understand their risk of breast cancer, access appropriate screening and take steps to reduce their risk. In the meantime, we’d encourage any women concerned about family history of breast cancer to speak to their GP."