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Release Date: 11/25/2014

There has been much recent debate on the benefits and risks of screening for breast cancer using BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in the general adult population. With an estimated 235,000 new breast cancer diagnoses each year in the U.S. and more than 40,000 deaths, it is clearly important to be able to determine which women may be genetically predisposed to breast cancer.

Glenn E. Palomaki, PhD, associate director of the Division of Medical Screening and Special Testing in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island has recently published an invited commentary in the November issue of Genetics in Medicine. The commentary is entitled “Is it time for BRCA1/2 mutation screening in the general adult population? Impact of population characteristics.”A family history of breast or ovarian cancer or a personal history of early-onset cancer are strong risk factors for breast cancer. Systematic criteria when caring for a patient with a positive family history have been well established by such agencies as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.  

Dr. Palomaki said, “With the identification of the tumor suppressor genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 in the 1990s, the scientific community has extensively explored both the personal and population impact of carrying a deleterious mutation in these genes. Any new population-based screening test, such as testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, requires consideration of key performance characteristics that evaluate both strengths and shortcomings before its introduction.”

In his commentary, Dr. Palomaki cited two recent publications that present perspectives on routine, population-based screening for breast cancer using BRCA1/2 mutations in different populations.

“Together, these two publications offer an unusual opportunity to compare and contrast how distinct population differences, such as the mutations carrier rate, might influence the feasibility of population-based screening,” said Dr. Palomaki. “Because founder mutations are more common in Ashkenazi Jewish women, are more easily identified and account for a higher proportion of all breast cancer cases, pilot trials in that population are indicated before launching widespread screening in Israel to identify and resolve implementation issues. Such screening in the United States, however, is more complicated, tilting the balance away from routine population screening, as least for the moment.”

Genetics in Medicine is the official journal of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics with a mission to enhance the knowledge and practice of medical genetics and genomics. This peer-reviewed monthly journal offers an unprecedented forum for the presentation of innovative, clinically relevant papers in contemporary genetic medicine, including such areas as genomics, chromosome abnormalities, metabolic diseases, single gene disorders and health services/implementation research. GIM is a highly visible venue for the dissemination of advances in public health genetics, screening, applications of next generation sequencing technology, informatics and database development and management. It is an ideal forum for manuscripts relating to important genetic counseling issues, ethical, legal and social implications of genetics, and all levels of education in human medical genetics.

About Women & Infants Hospital

Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, a Care New England hospital, is one of the nation’s leading specialty hospitals for women and newborns. A major teaching affiliate of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University for obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics, as well as a number of specialized programs in women’s medicine, Women & Infants is the 12th largest stand-alone obstetrical service in the country and the largest in New England with approximately 8,500 deliveries per year. A Designated Baby-Friendly® USA hospital, U.S.News & World Report 2014-15 Best Children’s Hospital in Neonatology and a 2014 Leapfrog Top Hospital, in 2009 Women & Infants opened what was at the time the country’s largest, single-family room neonatal intensive care unit.

Women & Infants and Brown offer fellowship programs in gynecologic oncology, maternal-fetal medicine, urogynecology and reconstructive pelvic surgery, neonatal-perinatal medicine, pediatric and perinatal pathology, gynecologic pathology and cytopathology, and reproductive endocrinology and infertility. It is home to the nation’s first mother-baby perinatal psychiatric partial hospital, as well as the nation’s only fellowship program in obstetric medicine.

Women & Infants has been designated as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiography; a Center of Excellence in Minimally Invasive Gynecology; a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence by the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and a Neonatal Resource Services Center of Excellence. It is one of the largest and most prestigious research facilities in high risk and normal obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics in the nation, and is a member of the National Cancer Institute’s Gynecologic Oncology Group and the Pelvic Floor Disorders Network.
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