Genetic Mutations: They’re Probably More Common Than You Thought

Genetic mutations have long been known to play a role in the development of certain forms of cancer. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, for example, can dramatically increase risk for breast and other forms of cancer. These mutations, however, are considered relatively rare. Until recently, in fact, genetic mutations in general were considered few and far between. Researchers are finding that this may not be entirely true.

A recent study dove into the question of genetic mutations and their frequency. Researchers ultimately found that genetic mutations are more common than previously thought. To arrive at that finding, researchers analyzed more than 31,000 samples. From those samples, about 1,100 genetic changes in 901 samples were found. Researchers also found that genetic changes tended to be more common with age. About 5 percent of people age 65 and older present with genetic mutations. About 10 percent of those age 80 and above have genetic mutations.

While mutations are not always directly linked to the formation of cancer, the presence of certain mutations can increase risks for particular forms of the disease. Genetic testing is often recommended for women diagnosed with breast cancer to help them see if there is a mutation that might also increase their risks for secondary cancers, such as ovarian. People who are concerned about cancer may also seek out genetic testing on their own to help gauge their personal risks. This type of testing can be beneficial where there is a familial history of cancer.

People who are concerned about their person cancer risks are urged to speak to their healthcare providers. Genetic testing is only one tool that can help gauge personal risk. It is important to understand that gene mutations, such as BRCA mutations, are not responsible for every case of cancer. Other causes, such as tobacco use, obesity, environmental factors and may also exist.

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