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17 January 2012
Breast cancer gene plays role in heart disease

Medicos at St. Michael's Hospital in Canada have discovered that the infamous BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast cancer genes are also involved in regulating heart function. "Women who are at risk for breast cancer may also be at greater risk for heart disease," warned researcher Subodh Verma.

Verma explained that the majority of women with hereditary breast cancer have a mutated form of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, which normally suppress the growth of breast and ovarian tumors.

Verma found that following a heart attack, mice with the mutated BRCA1 gene had a three-to-five times higher rate of death. This was largely due to the development of profound heart failure. The research team believes that the mutated BRCA1/2 gene prevents the DNA repair in muscle cells that is essential to recovery after a heart attack.

Interestingly, a similar two-fold increase in heart failure was observed when mice with a mutated BRCA1 or BRAC2 gene were treated with doxorubicin, one of the common breast cancer chemotherapy drugs. In addition to studies in mice, the authors also verified this observation in human tissues.

"Our findings suggest that individuals who are at risk of breast cancer may also be at a previously unrecognized risk of heart disease," Verma said. "More importantly, we now understand that breast cancer and heart disease... have a common biological basis."

Knowing that the BRCA1/2 gene is essential to DNA repair may lead to future treatments for anyone with heart disease. Women who carry this mutated gene now know they may also be at a higher risk for developing heart disease in addition to the risk of developing cancer.

Co-researcher Christine Brezden-Masley said that while physicians knew doxorubicin was associated with heart failure, the new research shows women with the mutated BRCA1/2 gene are particularly sensitive to its toxicity. "What this means is that when a patient has the mutated gene, I now have to think about how much doxorubicin I'm going to give them or whether we should consider an alternate therapy."

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Source: St. Michael's Hospital

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