Researchers Identify A New Breast & Ovarian Cancer Susceptibility Gene

German researchers identify a new breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene known as “RAD51C.”  The risk for breast cancer in women with the RAD51C mutation is 60 to 80 percent, while the risk for ovarian cancer is 20 to 40 percent.

The discovery 15 years ago that the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 confer high risks for breast and ovarian cancer was a breakthrough for cancer prediction and therapy, especially for familial cases.  Now the research group of Prof. Alfons Meindl (Klinikum rechts der Isar of the Technische Universitaet Muenchen), in collaboration with other groups from Germany, the U.K., and the U.S., can identify another gene that increases susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancer. Their results have been published online in Nature Genetics. The identification of such high risk-conferring genes is a prerequisite for offering women tailored early recognition programs and more individualized therapies.

The gene newly identified as causing breast and ovarian cancer in familial cases is designated RAD51C. It is, like BRCA1 and BRCA2, essential for DNA repair within cells. Mutations in the gene can therefore cause either breast or ovarian cancer. In index cases from 1,100 German families with gynecological malignancies, six mutations within the RAD51C gene were found exclusively in 480 pedigrees [i.e., family trees] with occurrence of breast and ovarian cancer. The six RAD51C mutations were not found in 620 pedigrees with breast cancer only, or in 2,912 healthy German controls.  The risk for breast cancer in women with mutation of RAD51C is 60 to 80 percent, while the risk for ovarian cancer is 20 to 40 percent. As the cancers in such families were diagnosed significantly earlier than in women who developed sporadic breast or ovarian cancer, experts might also call the newly identified gene BRCA3.

“These results reinforce our assumption that various rare gene mutations contribute to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. The now known genes that predispose women to breast and/or ovarian cancer only explain 60 percent of the high-risk families,” says TUM Professor Alfons Meindl, Klinikum rechts der Isar, but novel technologies allow the rapid identification of other such rarely mutated disease-causing genes.

“We are also optimistic that in the future the individual breast cancer risks for the majority of women can be determined. These risk predictions will allow the offering of tailored prevention and small meshed early recognition programs. Risk-aligned prevention will become a new clinical area,” explains Prof. Dr. Rita Schmutzler of the University Hospital of Cologne, one of the other main authors of the article.

About Technische Universitaet Muenchen

Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) is one of Germany’s leading universities. It has roughly 420 professors, 7,500 academic and non-academic staff (including those at the university hospital “Rechts der Isar”), and 24,000 students. It focuses on the engineering sciences, natural sciences, life sciences, medicine, and economic sciences. After winning numerous awards, it was selected as an “Elite University” in 2006 by the Science Council (Wissenschaftsrat) and the German Research Foundation (DFG). The university’s global network includes an outpost in Singapore. TUM is dedicated to the ideal of a top-level research based entrepreneurial university.

About Klinikum rechts der Isar, Munich, Germany

The Klinikum rechts der Isar (on the right hand side of the river Isar) serves its patients with a highly skilled team of dedicated doctors, nurses, research scientists, and technical assistants. The Klinikum rechts der Isar is a university hospital of the Technische Universitaet Muenchen.  With a workforce of over 4,000 personnel, the university hospital is a renowned center for the care of the sick, for medical research, and for the teaching of medicine. The Klinikum rechts der Isar is composed of more than 30 separate clinics and departments treating some 45,000 in-house patients and 170,000 out-patients yearly. With more than 1,000 beds, the hospital covers the entire spectrum of modern medicine with state-of-the-art efficiency. Through the close cooperation between health care and research, the latest advances in medical techniques can be quickly integrated into patient treatment procedures.


2 thoughts on “Researchers Identify A New Breast & Ovarian Cancer Susceptibility Gene

  1. Hi Paul – This is indeed an important study that reinforces the notion that, for families with strong family history of breast and ovarian cancer and normal BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, other rare causes of Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer syndrome remain to be found.

    I’ve got some analysis of the study posted on my blog, Cancer and Your Genes, at this url:

    Best regards,
    Matt Mealiffe, M.D.


    • Hi Matt — I want to thank you for stopping by to comment. Your article is quite detailed and I encourage all of our readers to view it by clicking on Dr. Mealiffe’s comment hyperlink. Matt, I want to wish you great success with your current ventures and invite you to comment whenever you have time. You are a great resource regarding the intersection of medicine and genetics, and I know our readers can learn a great deal from your postings.

      Best, Paul


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