Investigating the effects of additional truncating variants in DNA-repair genes on breast cancer risk in BRCA1-positive women

BMC Cancer. 2019 Aug 8;19(1):787. doi: 10.1186/s12885-019-5946-0.


Background: Inherited pathogenic variants in BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the most common causes of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC). The risk of developing breast cancer by age 80 in women carrying a BRCA1 pathogenic variant is 72%. The lifetime risk varies between families and even within affected individuals of the same family. The cause of this variability is largely unknown, but it is hypothesized that additional genetic factors contribute to differences in age at onset (AAO). Here we investigated whether truncating and rare missense variants in genes of different DNA-repair pathways contribute to this phenomenon.

Methods: We used extreme phenotype sampling to recruit 133 BRCA1-positive patients with either early breast cancer onset, below 35 (early AAO cohort) or cancer-free by age 60 (controls). Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) was used to screen for variants in 311 genes involved in different DNA-repair pathways.

Results: Patients with an early AAO (73 women) had developed breast cancer at a median age of 27 years (interquartile range (IQR); 25.00-27.00 years). A total of 3703 variants were detected in all patients and 43 of those (1.2%) were truncating variants. The truncating variants were found in 26 women of the early AAO group (35.6%; 95%-CI 24.7 - 47.7%) compared to 16 women of controls (26.7%; 95%-CI 16.1 to 39.7%). When adjusted for environmental factors and family history, the odds ratio indicated an increased breast cancer risk for those carrying an additional truncating DNA-repair variant to BRCA1 mutation (OR: 3.1; 95%-CI 0.92 to 11.5; p-value = 0.07), although it did not reach the conventionally acceptable significance level of 0.05.

Conclusions: To our knowledge this is the first time that the combined effect of truncating variants in DNA-repair genes on AAO in patients with hereditary breast cancer is investigated. Our results indicate that co-occurring truncating variants might be associated with an earlier onset of breast cancer in BRCA1-positive patients. Larger cohorts are needed to confirm these results.

Keywords: Age at onset; BRCA1; Breast cancer; DNA-repair; DNA-repair genes; Extreme phenotypes; Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer; Next-generation-sequencing; Panel sequencing.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Aged
  • BRCA1 Protein / genetics*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • DNA Repair*
  • Databases, Genetic
  • Female
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genetic Loci
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Grading
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Population Surveillance
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Sequence Deletion*


  • BRCA1 Protein
  • BRCA1 protein, human
  • Biomarkers, Tumor

Supplementary concepts

  • Breast Cancer, Familial