Breast and ovarian cancer gene linked to Orkney as women from the islands are 10 times more likely to get the disease, study shows
- 1 in 100 people with grandparents from islands off the coast of Scotland have the BRCA1 gene
- Gene spotted in Orkney women who traced their ancestry to Westray
Women from Orkney are ten times more likely than the rest of the UK to carry a genetic mutation that increases the risk of developing cancerfound a study.
The screening study suggests that one in 100 people with grandparents from the islands off the coast of Scotland have a mutation in the BRCA1 gene – often linked to breast and ovarian cancer.
Experts from the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh found that the gene mutation was repeatedly spotted in Orkney women who traced their family ancestry to the island of Westray, which has a population of 600.
Westray Islanders described being shocked after being told about the discovery at a recent meeting with two leading professors, but have begun warning loved ones who may carry the gene.
The mutation — known as V173A — likely came from someone who lived on Westray at least 250 years ago, according to the research published in the European Journal of Human Genetics.
The screening study suggests that one in 100 people with grandparents from the islands off the coast of Scotland has a mutation in the BRCA1 gene – commonly linked to breast and ovarian cancer (file image)
Linda Hagan, 69, one of 50 islanders at the meeting, said: “There was a sense of shock when the news was announced.”
Now a chance for an earlier diagnosis
But attitudes began to change.
Ms Hagan said: ‘People realized that at least now there was a chance for earlier diagnosis and treatment.’
Retired teaching assistant Sheena Forbes, 67, who lives in Inverness, previously tested positive for another mutation – BRCA1 – and underwent preventive surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes.
Ms Forbes, whose parents were from Westray and born in Kirkwall, Orkney, said she should warn her children about the gene, explaining: “There’s a 50-50 chance each of them will also carry the mutation.”
Two of her daughters, aged 37 and 35, also have the gene.
She added: “They each have two children and there is always an option for them to have preventive surgery – but that would change lives.”
Ms Forbes told the Sunday Times that she and her family are “blessed to be on the list and screened regularly…
“We are lucky to live now and not a generation ago.”
A week after the results of the Orcadian cancer study were announced, 500 people contacted the NHS Grampian genetic testing helpline.
The service is free to anyone in Westray with a grandparent from the island, or those with grandparents from elsewhere in Orkney who have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
The researchers have begun assessing international associations to map out how common the mutation is.
They have found clusters of people with the gene as far away as Saskatchewan, Canada, and Christchurch, New Zealand. Others have been found in South Africa and Nevada.