Published Friday, 28 March 2014
BRCA1 prompted actress Angelina Jolie to have a double mastectomy. (© Getty)
The new discovery means women with the BRCA1 mutation - which affects around one in 1,000 women in the UK - could be treated with drugs rather than undergoing surgery.
Women with the BRCA1 mutation have up to an 85% risk of developing breast cancer, and up to 40% risk of developing ovarian cancer, in their lifetimes. Up until now the only way of reducing their risk has been preventive surgery - a mastectomy and oophorectomy.
Dr Kienan Savage explained: "Because of this discovery, we now have the opportunity to propose an alternative treatment to surgery. It also opens up the possibility of pausing treatment for a period in order for women to have children, if desired."
The new research claims to have shown a direct link between high levels of oestrogen and DNA damage, which causes cancer, in the breasts and ovaries.
"This discovery is very significant in the management of women with the BRCA1 gene mutation", continued Dr Savage. "It's the first really credible evidence that oestrogen is driving cancer in women with a BRCA1 gene mutation."
The findings come from research which has been conducted by the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at QUB over a four year period.
Researchers are now seeking funding to launch clinical trials and hope to do so within 12 months.
They plan to carry out a small, control trial at first using a combination of two drugs on 12 women for a period of three months, using biopsy, blood and urine samples to track DNA damage.
Welcoming the findings, Roisin Foster of Cancer Focus Northern Ireland said: "Cancer Focus is delighted to fund this ground-breaking research into breast cancer.
"It has the potential in the foreseeable future to benefit women all over the world."
© UTV News