Context: Studies of high-risk families with multiple early-onset cases of breast cancer have been useful for assessing the type and spectrum of germline mutations on the BRCA1 gene, but do not provide guidance to women with modest family history profiles. Thus, studies of women from the general population are needed to determine the BRCA1 mutation frequency in women perceived to be at high risk, and to develop profiles of those most likely to be carriers.
Objective: To characterize frequency and spectrum of germline BRCA1 mutations in 2 categories of women identified via population-based studies hypothesized to be at increased risk of carrying such mutations: those diagnosed as having breast cancer before age 35 years and those diagnosed before age 45 years who have first-degree breast cancer family history.
Design: Study subjects were drawn from 2 population-based case-control studies of breast cancer in young women on the basis of their family history or their age of diagnosis. Cases were younger than 35 years or were younger than 45 years with first-degree family history at the time of breast cancer diagnosis and were ascertained via a population-based cancer registry, and controls (women without breast cancer) were identified via random-digit dialing.
Setting: Three counties in western Washington State.
Main outcome measure: BRCA1 germline mutations in study subjects identified in DNA from peripheral blood lymphocytes by single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis using primer pairs that span the BRCA1 coding region and intron-exon boundaries.
Results: Of 193 women diagnosed as having breast cancer before age 35 years, none of whom were selected on the basis of family history status, 12 (6.2%, 95% confidence interval [CI], 3.2%-10.6%) had germline BRCA1 mutations. In 208 women diagnosed before age 45 years who had first-degree breast cancer family history, 15 (7.2%, 95% CI,4.1%-11.6%) had germline mutations in BRCA1. In both groups, there were variations in mutation frequency noted by age and by family history. Mutation frequency decreased with increasing age of diagnosis. Higher proportions of mutations were seen in cases with at least 1 relative diagnosed as having breast cancer before age 45 years, in cases with greater numbers of affected relatives, and those with ovarian cancer family history. Mutation frequency did not vary by bilateral breast cancer family history. No frameshift or nonsense mutations were observed in 71 control women with a first-degree family history, although missense changes of unknown significance were seen in cases and controls.
Conclusions: Women with BRCA1 germline mutations lacked a common family history profile. Also, a large proportion of the women with a first-degree breast cancer family history and women diagnosed as having breast cancer before age 35 years did not carry germline BRCA1 mutations. Hence, while early-onset disease and a strong breast cancer family history may be useful guidelines for checking BRCA1 status, these findings on women drawn from the general population suggest that it may be difficult to develop BRCA1 mutation screening criteria among women with modest family history profiles.