Mammogram or MRI? New DNA Test May Provide Answers

By Daisy Shapiro and Bruce Hensel
|  Thursday, May 6, 2010  |  Updated 9:36 AM PDT
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Mammogram or MRI? New DNA Test May Provide Answers

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How do you know if you should have a mammogram or MRI and when to start? There has been a lot of controversy about that recently. Now a new DNA test being studied nationwide, may provide the answer, Dr. Bruce Hensel reported.

When Tamara Knabb had an opportunity to take part in a genetic study on breast cancer, she didn’t hesitate -- even though she's never had the disease.

"I have two daughters ages 33 and 29 who will soon be getting their annual mammograms and the idea that they might be avoiding, rather than fighting, breast cancer was very exciting to me," Knabb said.

Sarah Murray, director of genetics at Scripps in San Diego, is an investigator in the research dubbed the “pink” study. She says the goal is to try to assess a woman's breast cancer risk using her DNA, then plan her screening accordingly.

Nationwide the study will enroll about 3,500 women. You must be at least 30 years old; with or without a history of breast cancer; have at least 5 years of breast images already done and be willing to have a blood DNA test done

“Once we can identify high-risk women we can offer more sensitive breast imaging, such as MRI screening in addition to mammography, which is the current standard of care,” Murray said.

The study is not looking at the high-risk mutations BRCA1 and two that you've probably heard about. These are newly discovered lower-risk mutations.

“One of these mutations in and of itself will not give you breast cancer. But collectively, it’ll put you at a, enough of high, of an increased risk that it would at least warrant more sensitive screening,” Murray said.

If the study proves these mutations are good breast cancer predictors, women could be divided into different screening categories, according to risk.

“Being able to identify those women and have some strategy for prevention would be, you know, ideal,” Murray said.

Breast cancer is the second-most common form of cancer in women. So Tamara's glad to be part of the research.

"It gave me the idea that we might really be doing something exciting that might really have an amazing outcome for everybody," Knabb said.

In the last two years, researchers have uncovered about a dozen new mutations that signal breast cancer risk. These lower-risk mutations affect 20 to 30 percent of women.

For information about the study, go to http://www.scripps.org/clinical_trials. Then scroll down to click on the link for the PINK study.

For general information on breast cancer or breast cancer screening:
American Cancer Society, http://www.cancer.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast
National Cancer Institute, http://www.cancer.gov

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