Diagnostic screening for pathogenic variants in breast cancer susceptibility genes, including BRCA1, BRCA2, PALB2, PTEN and TP53, may be offered to New Zealanders from suspected high-risk breast (and ovarian) cancer families. However, it is unknown how many high-risk pathogenic variant carriers in New Zealand are not offered genetic screening using existing triage tools and guidelines for breast (and ovarian) cancer patients.
Panel-gene sequencing of the coding and non-coding regions of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, and the coding regions and splice sites of CDH1, PALB2, PTEN and TP53, was undertaken for an unselected cohort of 367 female breast cancer patients. A total of 1685 variants were evaluated using the ENIGMA and the ACMG/AMP variant classification guidelines.
Our study identified that 13 (3.5%) breast cancer patients carried a pathogenic or likely pathogenic variant in BRCA1, BRCA2, PALB2, or PTEN. A significantly higher number of pathogenic variant carriers had grade 3 tumours (10/13) when compared to non-carriers; however, no other clinicopathological characteristics were found to be significantly different between (likely) pathogenic variant carriers and non-carriers, nor between variant of unknown significance carriers and non-carriers. Notably, 46% of the identified (likely) pathogenic variant carriers had not been referred for a genetic assessment and consideration of genetic testing.
Our study shows a potential under-ascertainment of women carrying a (likely) pathogenic variant in a high-risk breast cancer susceptibility gene. These results suggest that further research into testing pathways for New Zealand breast cancer patients may be required to reduce the impact of hereditary cancer syndromes for these individuals and their families.