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Fat mass and obesity gene connected to breast cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Breast cancer and obesity gene

Investigators from Northwestern Memorial Hospital link the FTO gene associated with fat mass and obesity to higher risk of breast cancer. The finding adds to understanding of risk factors for the disease. Researchers found breast cancer increases 30 percent for women who have the FTO gene variant that becomes overexpressed in breast tissue, increasing the chances breast cancer will develop.

Why obesity boosts breast cancer risk

Virginia Kaklamani, MD, oncologist at Northwestern Memorial, co-director of the Cancer Genetics Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and lead author of the study says the finding clarifies why obesity is associated with breast cancer risk.

Kaklamani explains, “Ten years ago we didn’t know about the BRCA gene mutation which has been linked to breast and ovarian cancer. Today, we offer genetic testing and a specialized clinic for those at risk in order to minimize their risk and detect any indication of cancer early.”

First study shows link between FTO gene variation and breast cancer

Everyone has the FTO gene explain the researchers, but eighteen percent of individuals have the obesity gene variant that the study found increases the chance of breast cancer by 30 percent, potentially explaining the link between higher rates among those who are obese.

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For the study, the researchers examined gene expression in 354 breast cancer cases and 364 controls. They also looked at FTO gene expression in normal and breast cancer tissue to find the increased risk of the disease that specifically came from SNP’s, or single nucleotide polymorphisms, of the gene associated with fat tissue and obesity.

The researchers found FTO is expressed in normal and breast cancer tissue, leading them to suspect overexpression of the gene contributes to demethylation and higher risk of the disease. In the study, several variations of the gene were linked to higher incidence of breast cancer.

The authors concluded, “To our knowledge this is the first study reporting an association between FTO pathway SNPs and breast cancer risk. This is also the first study to show expression of FTO in normal and malignant breast tissue.”

The authors note more studies are needed to confirm the link between the fat tissue obesity gene that is present in breast tissue and may play a role in how cancer of the breast develops. The study associates variants of the FTO gene with higher risk of breast cancer.

BMC Medical Genetics 2011, 12:52doi:10.1186/1471-2350-12-52
“The role of the fat mass and obesity associated gene (FTO) in breast cancer risk”
Virginia Kaklamani et al

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