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Genetic Variant found in Latinas Reduces Risk of Breast Cancer

Update Date: Oct 21, 2014 10:57 AM EDT

A genetic variant identified in Latina women could protect them from breast cancer, a new study found. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) found that 20 percent of U.S. Latinas who carry this gene have a significantly reduced risk of developing breast cancer.

"The effect is quite significant," study senior author Dr. Elad Ziv, a professor of medicine at UCSF, said in a university news release.

For this study, Dr. Ziv and his team analyzed the DNA of 3,140 women with breast cancer and nearly 8,000 women without breast cancer from the United States, Mexico and Columbia. The team identified one specific genetic variant that was associated with breast tissue that appeared to be less dense on mammograms. Increased breast density has been linked to breast cancer risk. The researchers believe that the genetic variant originated from Native Americans.

The team found that roughly 20 percent of U.S. Latinas carry one copy of this genetic variant, which lowers their risk of breast cancer by about 40 percent. Women who had two copies of the variant, which is roughly one percent of the U.S. Latina population, had an 80 percent lower risk of cancer.

The researchers noted that the reduced risk was linked to the more aggressive estrogen receptor-negative types of breast cancer. The variant is located on chromosome six, which is very close to another gene that is responsible for coding ESR1, an estrogen receptor.

"If we can use these results to better understand how this protects [against] estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer, that would be interesting and important, because right now we have no good way to prevent that type of breast cancer," Ziv said.

These findings are in line with the lifetime risk of breast cancer calculated by the U.S. National Cancer Institute. According to these numbers, Hispanic women have the lowest risk of breast cancer in comparison to white and black. Hispanic women who have Native American heritage have an even lower risk of breast cancer.

"This is a really important study," said Marc Hurlbert, executive director of the Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Crusade, who was not involved in the study, according to the New York Times. "If we can understand how this is protective, it might help us to develop better treatments for those who do get breast cancer."

The study was published in the journal, Nature Communications.

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