Non-Surgical Cancer Risk Reduction in BRCA1 Mutation Carriers: Disabling the Remote Control

Martin Widschwendter, Louis Dubeau
Cancers 2020 February 27, 12 (3)
Women-specific cancers are a major health issue, particularly those associated with the BRCA 1 germline mutation carrier state, which include triple-negative basal breast carcinomas and high-grade serous ovarian carcinomas (referred to as extra-uterine Müllerian carcinomas). Whereas many chronic diseases can currently be prevented (e.g., cardiovascular diseases), no recent tangible progress was made in cancer prevention of BRCA1 mutation carriers apart from surgical resections of at-risk organs. This lack of progress is largely due to (1) poor understanding of the initiating events triggered by known risk factors in the development of these cancers, (2) the fact that current preventive measures rely on evidence obtained from adjuvant breast cancer treatment that fail to protect against poor prognostic cancers, and (3) problems with using cancer incidence in high-risk women as an ethically justifiable endpoint in cancer prevention trials. Here, we propose that cancer predisposition in BRCA1 mutation carriers is driven, at least in part, by cell-nonautonomous mechanisms (i.e., driven by consequences of this carrier state on hormonal and other systemic factors controlled in organs other than those that are cancer-prone) and that biomarkers of epigenomic reprogramming, hypothesized to be a direct consequence of such cell-nonautonomous mechanisms, are attractive as intermediate surrogate endpoints to assess the efficacy of cancer risk-reducing strategies targeting these mechanisms.

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