Although the risk of breast cancer for women in the United States is approximately 1 in 9, identification of risk factors and translation of that knowledge into strategies for prevention have been inhibited by poor understanding of disease pathogenesis. A few benign breast proliferations are associated with higher risks of breast cancer, but definition of a preneoplastic morphologic continuum is lacking. If progression from a premalignant state to malignancy is accompanied by genetic changes, then identification in benign breast disease lesions (BBD) of alterations similar to those found in breast cancer should strengthen the perception of BBD as a premalignant condition. Current testing for hereditary breast cancer susceptibility presumes that only women with invasive breast or ovarian cancer are gene carriers. Therefore, neither in situ breast cancer nor atypical hyperplasias are considered clinically as evidence of a breast-ovarian syndrome, nor are these diagnoses used to predict carrier status within at-risk families. This reflects lack of evidence that breast cancer develops along a recognized morphologic continuum from precursor lesions. New mutation screening procedures such as DNA microarrays can provide sensitivity, specificity, and high throughput that circumvent limitations imposed on the scope of molecular marker analyses applied to archival resources. We have studied a BRCA1-mutant individual with loss of the wild type BRCA1 allele in benign breast proliferations. Both her benign and malignant lesions showed molecularly identical TP53 mutations, indicating that significant genetic alterations can occur in BBD and supporting the clonal evolution from BBD to malignancy.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.