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Researchers find indicators for breast cancer survivors' chance of leukemia

By understanding if a woman is at higher risk for secondary cancer, researchers said doctors can tailor treatment to prevent it in appropriate patients.

By Stephen Feller
Researchers find indicators for breast cancer survivors' chance of leukemia
Researchers found family history of cancer and presence of genetic mutations can indicate whether breast cancer survivors have a higher risk of developing treatment-related leukemia. Photo by Guschenkova/Shutterstock

CHICAGO, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- Some breast cancer survivors develop therapy-related leukemia, the causes of which researchers say they are still understanding.

A new study found personal and family histories can suggest susceptibility, and 1 in 5 women in the study carried a genetic mutation that indicates an increased risk for breast cancer -- which may also increase leukemia risk, they said.

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Certain treatments targeting tumors also affect healthy cells nearby, which increases the risk of leukemia. As breast cancer survivors live longer, researchers said the chances increase for them to develop the secondary cancer related to previous treatment.

"The findings justify a long-term follow-up study of women with and without inherited breast cancer gene mutations who are treated with similar therapy for breast cancer," Dr. Jane Churpek, a researcher at the University of Chicago, said in a press release. "This would enable us to understand how these genes impact therapy-related leukemia risk and whether specific treatments come with higher risks based on a woman's inherited genetics."

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Researchers analyzed the medical records of 88 breast cancer survivors in the therapy-related leukemia registry at the University of Chicago.

They found 22 percent had an additional primary cancer, and 57 percent of patients with an available family history had a close relative with breast, ovarian, or pancreatic cancer. Just over half the patients also had DNA available, revealing 21 percent have an inherited gene mutation making them susceptible to breast cancer.

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The researchers write in the study, published in the journal Cancer, that future studies should focus on the role genetic mutations play in cancer types, as well as the effects of breast cancer treatment on patients with both family history of cancer and gene mutations.

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