The Drug Denosumab Might Protect Against The BRCA1 Gene Mutation, Which Is Huge News For People With A Genetic Predisposition To Breast Cancer

When Angelina Jolie had a preventative double mastectomy in 2013 and her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed in 2015, she gave a face to women struggling with a genetic predisposition to breast and ovarian cancers. By that point, the BRCA1 gene was already a far too familiar enemy for thousands of families throughout the United States — but that soon may change. Researchers may have found a drug that prevents the BRCA1 mutation, the "breast cancer gene," from causing cancer. Should their discovery continue to prove effective in future tests, a non-surgical alternative for preventative treatment could soon be available.

The New Zealand-based research team, comprised of Emma Nolan and Professors Jane Visvader and Geoff Lindeman, published their findings yesterday in the journal Nature Medicine . They focused on the effects of denosumab, an existing drug which is already used to treat osteoporosis, in halting cancer development, specifically in women with the BRCA1 gene.

Here's a little background on that gene: First of all, it exists in all humans, and is expressed in breasts and other tissue-heavy areas of the body. When functioning properly, the BRCA1 gene helps the body repair damaged DNA. Inherit a faulty BRCA1 gene, however, and your chances of developing breast cancer by age 70 are between 50 and 85 percent. In addition, women with the gene mutation are 20 to 40 percent more likely to develop ovarian cancer.

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12 percent of women in the United States will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute; meanwhile, 65 percent of women with the faulty BRCA1 gene will. While there's genetic testing which can now alert women to an elevated risk of cancer, the preventative measures are severe: Mastectomies, hysterectomies, and the removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes. Women in their 20s and 30s experience loss of fertility and menopause.

Though the denosumab studies have so far been exclusively in clinical trials, results imply the drug may have the ability to halt the development of cancer in high-risk women. That's huge. That's life-changing. That's, as scientists are beginning to note, the "holy grail" of cancer research findings. There's a lot of work left to be done before anything can conclusively be said about whether it will be an effective treatment — but it's offering one thing that we haven't had so far: Hope.

So here's hoping more trials will support the findings. Because the implications are enormous.