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Triple-negative breast cancer and PTEN (phosphatase and tensin homologue)loss are predictors of BRCA1 germline mutations in women with early-onset and familial breast cancer, but not in women with isolated late-onset breast cancer

Sze-Yee Phuah1, Lai-Meng Looi2, Norhashimah Hassan14, Anthony Rhodes34, Sarah Dean3, Nur Aishah Mohd Taib4, Cheng-Har Yip4 and Soo-Hwang Teo14*

Author Affiliations

1 Cancer Research Initiatives Foundation, Sime Darby Medical Centre, 1 Jalan SS12/1A, Subang Jaya, 47500 Selangor, Malaysia

2 Department of Pathology, Faculty of Medicine, University Malaya Medical Centre, 50603, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

3 Faculty of Applied Sciences, University of the West of England, Bristol, Frenchay Campus, Coldharbour Lane, Bristol BS16 1QY, UK

4 Breast Cancer Research Unit, University Malaya Cancer Research Institute, Faculty of Medicine, University Malaya Medical Centre, University Malaya, 50603, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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Breast Cancer Research 2012, 14:R142  doi:10.1186/bcr3347

Published: 2 November 2012



Given that breast cancers in germline BRCA1 carriers are predominantly estrogen-negative and triple-negative, it has been suggested that women diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) younger than 50 years should be offered BRCA1 testing, regardless of family cancer characteristics. However, the predictive value of triple-negative breast cancer, when taken in the context of personal and family cancer characteristics, is unknown. The aim of this study was to determine whether TNBC is a predictor of germline BRCA1 mutations, in the context of multiple predictive factors.


Germline mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 were analyzed by Sanger sequencing and multiple ligation-dependent probe amplification (MLPA) analysis in 431 women from the Malaysian Breast Cancer Genetic Study, including 110 women with TNBC. Logistic regression was used to identify and to estimate the predictive strength of major determinants. Estrogen receptor (ER) and phosphatase and tensin homologue (PTEN) status were assessed and included in a modified Manchester scoring method.


Our study in an Asian series of TNBC patients demonstrated that 27 (24.5%) of 110 patients have germline mutations in BRCA1 (23 of 110) and BRCA2 (four of 110). We found that among women diagnosed with breast cancer aged 36 to 50 years but with no family history of breast or ovarian cancer, the prevalence of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations was similar in TNBC (8.5%) and non-TNBC patients (6.7%). By contrast, in women diagnosed with breast cancer, younger than 35 years, with no family history of these cancers, and in women with a family history of breast cancer, the prevalence of mutations was higher in TNBC compared with non-TNBC (28.0% and 9.9%; P = 0.045; and 42.1% and 14.2%; P < 0.0001, respectively]. Finally, we found that incorporation of estrogen-receptor and TNBC status improves the sensitivity of the Manchester Scoring method (42.9% to 64.3%), and furthermore, incorporation of PTEN status further improves sensitivity (42.9% to 85.7%).


We found that TNBC is an important criterion for highlighting women who may benefit from genetic testing, but that this may be most useful for women with early-onset breast cancer (35 years or younger) or with a family history of cancers. Furthermore, addition of TNBC and PTEN status improves the sensitivity of the Manchester scoring method and may be particularly important in the Asian context, where risk-assessment models underestimate the number of mutation carriers.