Researchers conducting a years-long study into breast cancer in Bahamian women have discovered three additional gene mutations.
"Now one of them is a recognized gene called brca1 (breast cancer one) and the mutation is a known one, but two of them are previously unrecognized, never reported before mutations in BRCA2," said Dr. Judith Hurley, a breast cancer specialist at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
The Nassau Guardian spoke with Dr. Hurley yesterday at a round table discussion on cancer at the Cancer Society of The Bahamas.
The Bahamas has a high incidence of breast cancer and through the study, researchers have discovered nine mutations in the total.
Dr. Hurley said after screening a large population of Bahamians, 24 percent of women in The Bahamas who have breast cancer, were found to have one of the mutations.
"So this is the highest reported rate in the world of genetic breast cancer," she said.
Dr. Hurley said they are in the last stages of discovering all of the gene mutations involved in breast cancer.
"Now having said that," Dr. Hurley noted, "there are only six women with that (the new gene mutations), so we still have many, many women -- over 100 -- who look to us that they may have inherited breast cancer, so we're going to do...very advanced scientific tests to see if there isn't something else that we are missing.
"And once we figure out every single one of the mutations, then we'll have what we can call The Bahamas mutation panel.
"Once you know what every gene is that you have to test for, then it becomes financially viable to do it because you don't have to look at the entire gene, you can just look at those six, or right now those nine, and maybe those 10 mutations which is much more easy and much more affordable."
With that information, Dr. Hurley said the researchers can then create cost effective methods to test women who have this genetic predisposition.
If you have the predisposition, Dr. Hurley said, then you can take steps to prevent your risk, decrease the risk or have early detection for breast cancer.
"If you have breast cancer that's caused by one of these genetic mutations you may need different kinds of drugs than if you had breast cancer that isn't from a genetic mutation," she revealed.
With these new results, Dr. Hurley admitted that many scientists are not terribly excited because they don't "quite yet see the relevance of The Bahamas".
"People in the United States think 'oh that's nice; I like to vacation in The Bahamas' and [it] really doesn't strike them," she said.
"But if you live in some place like Miami where there is a large population of Bahamians it becomes way more important. And also when I've taken this information and spoken to other oncologists in the Caribbean they say, 'Oh, you're talking about my women; this sounds like my women'."
With help Dr. Hurley said she expanded the study to Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Dominica and the Cayman Islands.
"So this may be a little window that we've opened here [in] The Bahamas and the bigger window may be the Caribbean and then once you start talking about 'well this is a Caribbean wide issue' then it really becomes a worldwide issue because there are people of Caribbean descent throughout the [world]," she said.
"So the little window becomes a bigger and bigger window."
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