Purpose: Mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes increase breast cancer risk. Assuring reliability of information about these mutations is increasingly important to the health care community; mutation testing is becoming more widespread. We describe a methodology for assessing such information.
Methods: Our approach integrates four interdependent epidemiologic parameters: (1) the probability of developing breast cancer, (2) the proportion of breast cancer cases with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, (3) the proportion of women that carries a mutation, and (4) the proportion of women with a mutation that develops cancer. We assess the plausibility of estimates of these parameters from published reports and commonly accessed information sources.
Results: Assuming a fixed probability of developing breast cancer, the following estimates for the other three epidemiologic parameters are derived for women by age 70: 1% to 2% of all breast cancer cases are associated with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation; 1 in 300 to 1 in 465 women carry a mutation; and 35 to 65% of mutation carriers develop breast cancer. Within these ranges, however, only selected combinations are plausible. The proportion of mutation-related breast cancer is lower than listed in some common information sources (1 to 2% vs 6%). Also, penetrance is somewhat lower and the carrier rate somewhat higher.
Conclusions: The four epidemiologic parameters can be integrated to test their plausibility. BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are associated with only one-third as many breast cancer cases in the general population as reported by commonly accessed information sources.