A gene mutation that increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer has been linked to people of Orkney ancestry.
Scientists from the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh have found that one in 100 people with grandparents from the islands off the northeast coast of Scotlandhave a mutation of the BRCA1 gene.
According to the research, the gene variant likely originated with one of the founding members of Westray – an island on Orkney with a population of less than 600 – at least 250 years ago.
The gene mutation has been repeatedly noted in Orkney women who have the cancersmost of whom could also trace their ancestry back to the small island of Westray.
As a result of the findings, there are plans to offer free testing for the gene variant to anyone living in the Scottish Isles with a Westray-born grandparent, regardless of their family history with the disease.
Professor Zosia Miedzybrodzka, director of the NHS North of Scotland Genetic Service, made it clear that developing cancer is not just due to carrying the BRCA1 variant alone.
What is a BRCA1 Gene?
Genes are found in every cell in our body. They enable bodies to grow and function correctly.
BRCA1 is a tumor suppressor gene that helps protect us from developing cancer, according to the NHS.
A variation can affect the function of the gene. This can increase the chances of developing breast, ovarian or prostate cancer, which are more common at a younger age.
A person’s genes can be examined using a blood sample. However, currently it is usually only offered to families with a strong history of cancer.
Everyone has the BRCA genes, but not everyone has mutations in them.
“There are many complex factors and some people with gene changes will not develop cancer,” said Professor Miedzybrodzka. “However, we know that testing and proper follow-up can save lives.”
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She recommended things like risk-reducing surgery, breast screening with MRI from the age of 30 and lifestyle advice to improve the health of women with the gene mutation.
Awareness of the faulty gene was raised as a Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie underwent a double mastectomy ten years ago, after she lost her mother to ovarian cancer and discovered she had a BRCA1 variant.
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The NHS recommends speaking to your GP if there is a family history of cancer or if you are concerned about your deductible. They may refer you for a genetic test, which will tell you if you have inherited any of the cancer risk genes.