Women who carry mutations in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene (carriers) have a high lifetime risk of breast cancer -- estimated to be as high as 80 percent by the time a carrier reaches age 70.
A new study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (May 20, 1998) reports that carriers who smoked cigarettes for more than 4 pack-years (i.e., number of packs per day multiplied by the number of years of smoking) were found to have a statistically significant 54 percent decrease in breast cancer incidence when compared with carriers who never smoked. One strength of the study is that the reduction in incidence exceeds the 50 percent threshold. But it was a small, case-control study (only 300 cases) based on self-reported data.
As the accompanying editorial put it,This study certainly should not be taken as encouragement for [carriers] to smoke. However, the study findings, if confirmed, raise the possibility that smoking -- or a constituent of cigarette smoke -- could benefit these women...[F]urther research with well-designed, population based investigations and appropriate chemoprevention studies is needed.
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