Women's College Hospital - Health Care for Women, Revolutionized

Jump to body content

Groundbreaking discovery gives women with the breast cancer gene new hope

Oct. 3, 2011

Dr. Joanne Kotsopoulus, Dr. Steven Narod and Dr. Kelly Metcalfe
Dr. Joanne Kotsopoulus, Dr. Steven Narod and Dr. Kelly Metcalfe

Women’s College Research Institute’s Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit has published a groundbreaking study showing that Polish women with BRCA1 mutations have a 46 per cent lower annual risk of developing breast cancer, compared to women in Ontario with the same BRCA1 mutation. The study appeared in the International Journal of Cancer on Sept. 22, 2011.

“We’ve learned that, for women in Poland with the same mutation, the annual risk of developing breast cancer is just under half of the risk in North America,” says Dr. Steven Narod, head of the Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit and one of the co-investigators.

“Such a large difference in risk leads us to suspect that environmental and dietary factors are involved,” says Narod. “It’s a significant finding because it suggests that we can reduce risk with nutritional interventions.”

Dr. Joanne Kotsopoulos, a scientist at Women’s College Research Institute, is leading the next phase of the study – an analysis of the women’s blood samples that will allow the team to compare mineral and nutrient levels.

“We hope to identify some difference in blood mineral levels of the Polish women that correlates with their lower risk,” says Kotsopoulos. “If we find that correlation, it will help us pinpoint a possible nutritional cause for this huge difference in lifetime risk.”

On Oct. 3, Dr. Steven Narod was awarded an honourary doctorate by the Pomeranian Medical University in Poland. The doctorate recognizes his long-standing and influential contribution to hereditary breast cancer research, through the Familial Breast Cancer Unit’s collaboration with the International Hereditary Cancer Center at Pomeranian Medical University.

Over the course of their lives, women in Ontario with a BRCA1 mutation have a 72 per cent risk of breast cancer. A dietary correlation could have an extremely significant impact on these women, giving them another option to reduce their risk.

“Currently, if women have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, their best options to prevent cancer are prophylactic surgeries like mastectomy and removal of the ovaries,” says Kotsopoulos.

That’s why Narod, Kotsopoulos and the Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit have been working to identify ways that women can reduce their risk with dietary and lifestyle modifications.

“We want to give women more options to reduce their risk, and less invasive options than surgery,” says Kotsopoulos. “Not every woman is going to choose surgery.”

In the mid-1990s, Narod’s team discovered the BRCA1/2 genes that, when mutated, cause many hereditary breast cancers. Today, Narod has built the world’s largest database of 12,000 women with BRCA1/2 mutations, which he uses to perform population-based research. Narod made this most recent discovery in collaboration with the International Hereditary Cancer Center of Pomeranian Medical University in Poland.


Jump to top page

Location and Contact Info

Our main building is located at:
76 Grenville Street
Toronto ON M5S 1B2

Main Switchboard: 416-323-6400

Subscribe »

Want to receive WCH Connect at home or at the office?

Register your email address by joining our mailing list.

Connect Archive »

View issues from previous years:

  • Fully affiliated with:
  • University of Toronto

  • A member of:
  • Council of Academic Hospitals of Ontario (CAHO)