A genetic mutation that increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer has been linked to people who inherited it from the Orkney Islands.
Scientists from the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh have found that 1 in 100 people whose grandparents come from the UK’s north-east coastal islands ScotlandHave a BRCA1 gene mutation.
According to the study, the genetic variant likely came from one of the founding members of Westray – an Orkney island with a population of fewer than 600 people – at least 250 years ago.
This gene mutation has been found repeatedly in Orkney women who have cancerand most of them can also trace their family lineage back to the Isle of Westray.
As a result of these findings, plans are underway to offer free testing for the gene variant to anyone living on the Scottish Isles whose grandparents were Westerly, regardless of their family medical history.
Professor Zosia Miedzybrodzka, director of the NHS North of Scotland Genetic Service, made it clear that cancer is not just about having a BRCA1 variant.
What is the BRCA1 gene?
Genes are present in every cell of our body. They allow the body to grow and function properly.
According to the NHS, BRCA1 is a tumor suppressor gene that helps protect us from cancer.
Variations can affect the function of a gene. This increases the chances of developing breast, ovarian or prostate cancer, which are more likely to occur at a younger age.
A person’s genes can be checked from a blood sample. Currently, however, it is usually only offered to families with a history of serious cancer.
Everyone has the BRCA gene, but not everyone has the mutation.
“There are many complicating factors and people with some genetic changes will not get cancer,” said Professor Miedzybrodzka. “However, we know that testing and the right follow-up can save lives.”
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She recommends measures such as risk-reducing surgery, breast screening with MRI starting at age 30, and lifestyle advice to improve the health of women with genetic mutations.
Awareness of faulty genes rises when Hollywood actresses show up Angelina Jolie undergoes double mastectomy Ten years ago, her mother died of ovarian cancer and it was discovered that she had the BRCA1 variant.
If cancer runs in your family, or if you are concerned about your risk, the NHS recommends talking to your GP. They may refer you for genetic testing, which will tell you whether you have inherited a cancer risk gene.