A second round of a study of local breast cancer sufferers and survivors to determine if a breast cancer gene mutation is widely seen among Caymanian women is due to start early next month.
The first round, held six months ago, involved testing of about 30 women who had at least one parent or grandparent born in Cayman and its results showed that not a single one had the gene mutation.
Jennifer Weber of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society said she was pleasantly surprised by the results, saying that the results can help to rule out gene mutation as a factor in causing breast cancer.
“The results from part one of the test have just recently come back and I’m thrilled to say that among our participants, there were zero women who tested positive for the BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutation,” she said. However, since the sample size was so small, she said it was important that more women take part in the next round of the study.
“This is an interesting finding so far, but certainly it’s not conclusive. In the Bahamas study, they had a much bigger sample. We need to ensure we test as many women as possible,” Ms Weber said.
Similar tests done in the Bahamas found that 23 per cent of local women tested had the BRCA 1 or 2 genes.
“We have the BRCA 1 and 2, the breast cancer genetic mutation test, part 2, coming up. We are very excited about it because we did the part one of the test about six months ago, when we had oncologist Dr. Judith Hurley from the University of Miami Health System comes to administer the test, and she brought with her geneticist Talia Donenberg. We call them the ‘gene queens’,” Ms Weber said.
They provided the test free of charge to all women who qualified. In that test, only women who were “genetically Caymanian” and who had had or still had breast or ovarian cancer could qualify to take part.
In the second part of the test, the criteria has been expanded to include Caymanian, Jamaican, Barbadian, Dominican or Trinidadian women who have or who have had breast or ovarian cancer.
“It’s a saliva test – completely noninvasive,” Ms Weber said. “If they choose to participate, they think of lemons and spit in a little receptacle which gets capped and sent to Canada and it’s tested in a batch with that particular group.”
So far, 13 women have signed up for the screening in Cayman, which will be done at the Cancer Society on Maple Road in George Town on 6, 7 and 8 May. Ms Weber hopes many more will volunteer to take part.
The Bahamas BRCA rate is the highest in the world. In the US, between 3 and 5 per cent of American women with breast cancer have the mutated genes. The Bahamian results prompted Dr. Hurley to carry out similar checks in other Caribbean islands, including Cayman.
The study in the Bahamas showed that in 2007, 43 per cent of women in the Bahamas who died of breast cancer were younger than 50; 14.3 per cent of them died between the ages of 31 and 40; and 1.1 per cent died in their 20s.
Dr. Hurley is carrying out similar studies in Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica and Barbados.
The DNA saliva test involved in determining if a woman has a genetic predisposition for breast and ovarian cancer normally cost as much as $3,600, but the tests in Cayman as part of the study are free of charge, thanks to a grant from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
Ms Weber said she understood that some women may be reluctant to take the test, as they may not want to know if they’re likely to get breast or ovarian cancer in the future, or since the test involves women who have had or still have cancer, they may not be interested, but she said it was vital that women were as informed as possible about their health, and the health of their daughters.
“If you have had breast cancer and you find out that you carry the gene, it is significant for you, your future and your loved ones. If you are positive for this, it means you have a 70 per cent chance of developing ovarian cancer,” said Ms Weber.
Armed with this information, a woman in her 40s could consult with her doctor about her options, including whether to remove her ovaries, especially if she has already had children, or a younger woman in her 20s could make a decision on whether to have a family earlier than she had originally planned, she pointed out. It would also help the daughters of women with the BRCA gene mutation by making them aware that they may also carry the gene and encourage them to carry out more detailed self-breast exams and consult their physicians about breast cancers earlier than women normally do.
“This give a woman a lot of information to protect her future health,” Ms Weber said. “It helps you prepare yourself and to be able to forecast future health conditions which in the past you were never able to do … A 70 per cent chance of getting ovarian cancer is a high percentage.”
The prevalence of breast and ovarian cancer in the Cayman Islands is not known because until recently there was no comprehensive method of collecting and collating information about cancer cases. In 2010, the Cancer Registry was set up to build a database to track the prevalence of all types of cancers in the Cayman Islands.
To find out more about the free BRCA gene test, call the Cancer Society at 949-7618.