Radiation-induced micronucleus induction in lymphocytes identifies a high frequency of radiosensitive cases among breast cancer patients: a test for predisposition?

Br J Cancer. 1998 Feb;77(4):614-20. doi: 10.1038/bjc.1998.98.


Enhanced sensitivity to the chromosome-damaging effects of ionizing radiation is a feature of many cancer-predisposing conditions. We previously showed that 42% of an unselected series of breast cancer patients and 9% of healthy control subjects showed elevated chromosomal radiosensitivity of lymphocytes irradiated in the G2 phase of the cell cycle. We suggested that, in addition to the highly penetrant genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, which confer a very high risk of breast cancer and are carried by about 5% of all breast cancer patients, there are also low-penetrance predisposing genes carried by a much higher proportion of breast cancer patients, a view supported by recent epidemiological studies. Ideally, testing for the presence of these putative genes should involve the use of simpler methods than the G2 assay, which requires metaphase analysis of chromosome damage. Here we report on the use of a simple, rapid micronucleus assay in G0 lymphocytes exposed to high dose rate (HDR) or low dose rate gamma-irradiation, with delayed mitogenic stimulation. Good assay reproducibility was obtained, particularly with the HDR protocol, which identified 31% (12 out of 39) of breast cancer patients compared with 5% (2 out of 42) of healthy controls as having elevated radiation sensitivity. In the long term, such cytogenetic assays may have the potential for selecting women for intensive screening for breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Division
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes / radiation effects*
  • Micronucleus Tests / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Resting Phase, Cell Cycle / genetics
  • Resting Phase, Cell Cycle / radiation effects*