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Scientists See Gains in Genetic Tests for Cancer

May 19, 1997|From Bloomberg News

Testing for specific genes that can elevate the risk of cancer may take on a much more important role in the near future, researchers said Sunday.

Researchers at the American Society of Clinical Oncology said they are within a year of identifying a gene that increases the risk of prostate cancer. They have already isolated two genes that play a role in breast and ovarian cancers.

Myriad Genetics of Salt Lake City, Utah, and Oncormed of Gaithersburg, Md., are among the companies developing genetic tests. The companies say the tests can be used to help patients know their risk and decide if they want to take preventive steps--such as more frequent screening for cancer or surgical removal of the organ that has a chance of becoming cancerous--before the cancer occurs.

The testing is controversial because having the gene does not necessarily mean a person will develop cancer. In addition, the tests are expensive, up to $2,500 in some cases.

"We think that genetics is going to play a major role in cancer sooner than later," said researcher Olufunmilayo Olopade of the University of Chicago.

Researchers discovered BRCA1, the gene linked with breast and ovarian cancer, in 1994. Scientists are honing in on the gene associated with heredity prostate cancer, called HPC1, and could identify it within the next few months to a year. Studies have suggested 5% to 10% of all prostate cancer is hereditary.

A study scheduled to be presented today identifies the chromosome on which the hereditary prostate gene is located, and concludes that the likelihood of having the gene is greater among families in whom prostate cancer was diagnosed under age 65.

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