Background: BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in general populations and in various types of cancers have not been well characterized. We investigated the presence of these mutations in unselected patients with newly diagnosed incident ovarian cancer in Ontario, Canada, with respect to cancers reported among their relatives.
Methods: A population series of 1171 unselected patients with incident ovarian cancer diagnosed between January 1, 1995, and December 31, 1999, in Ontario, Canada, was screened for germline mutations throughout the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Screening involved testing for common variants, then protein truncation testing of long exons, and then denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis or denaturing high-performance liquid chromatography for the remainder of BRCA1 and BRCA2, respectively. Cox regression analysis was used to examine cancer outcomes reported by the case probands for their 8680 first-degree relatives. Population allele frequencies and relative risks (RRs) were derived from the regression results by an extension of Saunders-Begg methods. Age-specific Ontario cancer incidence rates were used to estimate cumulative incidence of cancer to age 80 years by mutation status.
Results: Among 977 patients with invasive ovarian cancer, 75 had BRCA1 mutations and 54 had BRCA2 mutations, for a total mutation frequency of 13.2% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 11.2% to 15.5%). Higher risks for various cancer types in the general Ontario population were associated with BRCA1 mutation carriage than with noncarriage, including ovarian (RR = 21, 95% CI = 12 to 36), female breast (RR = 11, 95% CI = 7.5 to 15), and testis (RR = 17, 95% CI = 1.3 to 230) cancers. Higher risks were also associated with BRCA2 mutation carriage than with noncarriage, particularly for ovarian (RR = 7.0, 95% CI = 3.1 to 16), female and male breast (RR = 4.6, 95% CI = 2.7 to 7.8, and RR = 102, 95% CI = 9.9 to 1050, respectively), and pancreatic (RR = 6.6, 95% CI = 1.9 to 23) cancers. Cancer risks differed according to the mutation's position in the gene. Estimated cumulative incidence to age 80 years among women carrying BRCA1 mutations was 24% for ovarian cancer and 90% for breast cancer and among women carrying BRCA2 mutations was 8.4% for ovarian cancer and 41% for breast cancer. For the general Ontario population, estimated carrier frequencies of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, respectively, were 0.32% (95% CI = 0.23% to 0.45%) and 0.69% (95% CI = 0.43% to 1.10%).
Conclusions: BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations may be more frequent in general populations than previously thought and may be associated with various types of cancers.