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DNA in healthy breast tissue may indicate cancer risk

The changes in DNA may allow doctors to more accurately predict breast cancer risk in patients, if not prevent it from occurring.
By Stephen Feller   |   Jan. 29, 2016 at 3:31 PM

LONDON, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- DNA in normal breast tissue can indicate a woman's risk for developing breast cancer, according to a new study at University College London.

Previous research has shown risk factors such as family history, starting periods early, and entering menopause late are linked to an increased risk for breast cancer. These factors change the genetic program in breast cells, which the researchers said can be detected in DNA.

The potential to find these changes could allow doctors to more accurately predict women's risk for breast cancer.

"These new findings are important in supporting further research into women's cancer development and prevention," said Martin Widschwendter, head of the department of women's cancer at University College London, in a press release. "We are working hard to understand the risk factors associated with epigenetic changes in normal breast tissue and how these predispose a woman to cancer. The application of these altered epigenetic signatures hold the key developing new interventions that could 'switch off' this epigenetic defect and hold the key to preventing cancer development."

For the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers analyzed DNA in 569 breast tissue samples, including 50 from cancer-free women, and 42 pairs of samples from women with cancer -- normal tissue and cancerous tissue. An additional 263 breast cancer samples were used.

The comparison showed more than 30 percent of alterations in DNA expression matched cancer samples, identifying some of the reprogramming of cells that changes them from normal to cancerous.

"These new data show how epigenetic alterations, if detected early enough, could be used to identify women at higher risk of developing breast cancer," said Andrew Teschendorff, a researchers at University College London. "Since epigenetic alterations are reversible, it offers the potential to design preventive strategies. Our work further highlights the importance of inter-disciplinary work, combining clinical, biological and statistical expertise to make these findings possible."

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