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Research & Clinical Trials > Research Findings > BRCA And Salivary Gland Cancer

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BRCA and Salivary Gland Cancer: A Very Small Risk for a Very Rare Cancer

by Katrina Altersitz Wells and Lisa Rezende, PhD

Researchers at the Clinical Cancer Genetics Program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center investigated whether or not the presence of a BRCA1/2 mutation played a role in the development of salivary cancer. Their work was prompted by the similarities in the biology of breast and salivary gland tissue and was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg1. Subsequent articles appeared in popular press about the link between BRCA and salivary gland cancers, leading to wide-spread concern among the HBOC community about increased risk for these cancers. However, it's important to note that salivary gland cancers are exceedingly rare, even in mutation carriers.

The researchers identified 5,754 previously confirmed BRCA1/2 mutation carriers who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and their close family members. They then looked at the family medical history of each of the mutation carriers to see if there were any known cases of salivary cancers.

In these reviews, five salivary gland cancers were identified in families known to carry BRCA mutations. Out of those five patients with salivary gland cancer,

  • one patient was a known BRCA1 mutation carrier and
  • two others were in patients suspected of carrying the BRCA1 or BRCA 2 mutation known to be in their family
  • two patients did not likely carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation known to be in their family

This rate of salivary gland cancers in known and/or likely BRCA1/2 mutation carriers — three in 5,754 cases (0.052%) — is higher than the rate in the general population of three in 100,000 (0.003%) per year. While this represents an increase from the general population, BRCA1/2 mutation carriers should remember that salivary gland tumors are still extremely rare and the risk of this cancer is far lower than the cancers known to be associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

The authors note that further studies will be necessary to establish whether or not there is a relationship between salivary gland cancer and BRCA mutations. Such studies will have to be very large because these cancers are extremely rare, with only 3 people in 100,000 will be diagnosed with salivary gland cancer.

1Shen, TK, Teknow, TN, Toland, AE, et al., “Salivary Gland Cancer in BRCA-positive Families: A Retrospective Review,” JAMA-Otolaryngology- Head and Neck Surgery, published online September 25, 2014.

 

November 28, 2014

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