Background: Breast cancer is an extremely complex disease, characterized by a progressive multistep process caused by interactions of both genetic and non-genetic factors. A combination of BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations appears responsible for about 20%-30% of the cases with breast cancer familial history. The prevalence of BRCA1/2 pathogenic mutations largely varies within different populations; in particular, the rate of mutations in Italian breast and/or ovarian cancer families is rather controversial and ranges from 8% to 37%.
Patients and methods: Of the 152 breast/ovarian cancer families counseled in our centre, 99 were selected for BRCA1/2 mutation screening according to our minimal criteria. The entire coding sequences and each intron/exon boundary of BRCA1/2 genes were screened by direct sequencing (PTT limited to BRCA1 exon 11). For each proband, the a priori probability of carrying a pathogenic BRCA1/2 germline mutation was calculated by means of different mutation prediction models (BRCApro, IC and Myriad Table) in order to evaluate their performances.
Results: Our analysis resulted in the identification of 25 and 52 variants in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, respectively. Seventeen of them represent novel variants, including four deleterious truncating mutations in the BRCA2 gene (472insA, E33X, C1630X and IVS6+1G>C). Twenty-seven of the 99 probands harbored BRCA1 (n = 15) and BRCA2 (n = 12) pathogenic germline mutations, indicating an overall detection rate of 27.3% and increasing by more than 15% the spectrum of mutations in the Italian population. Furthermore, we found the lowest detection rate (19.4%) in pure hereditary breast cancer family subset. All of the prediction models showed praises and faults, with the IC software being extremely sensitive but poorly specific, compared to BRCApro. In particular all models accumulated most false-negative prediction in the HBC subset. Interestingly preliminary results of a study addressing the presence of genomic rearrangements in HBC probands with BRCApro or IC prediction scores >/=95%, provided evidence for additional mutations undetectable with our conventional screening for point mutations.
Conclusions: Altogether our results suggest that HBC families, the largest pool in our series, represent an heterogeneous group where the apparently faulty performances of the prediction models might be at least partially explained by the presence of additional kinds of BRCA1/2 alteration (such as genomic rearrangements) or by mutations on different breast cancer related genes.