Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2013

Document Type



Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

First Advisor

Barbara Demmig-Adams


Mutations in the BReast CAancer suspectibility genes BRCA 1 and 2 account for approximately 10% of breast cancers and 15% of ovarian cancers. Individuals with a mutation in these genes (and a resulting impairment in the function of these genes in e.g. DNA repair and estrogen signaling) have a much higher risk for getting these cancers than the population at large. This review aims to provide comprehensive information for BRCA mutation carriers on currently available options to lower the risk of getting cancer. The review summarizes interaction of lifestyle/environmental factors, such as diet, alcohol consumption, and hormonal supplements, in key pathways and mechanisms involved in cancer onset via a role in estrogen metabolism and DNA repair. This review furthermore evaluates promising future research directions and concludes that (i) more BRCA testing needs to be conducted on broader populations, (ii) BRCA1 and BRCA2 need to be analyzed separately as they exhibit distinct characteristics, and (iii) studies on lifestyle factors need to include multiple, synergistically acting factors and lifestyle history from many years prior to diagnosis. Additionally, (iv) molecular diagnostics and gene therapy provide promising results for hereditary cancers and need to be moved forward as quickly as possible. Furthermore, (v) research seems to be hindered by a lack of interdisciplinary collaboration, and should greatly benefit from a more synergistic effort. Finally (vi) lifestyle and diet changes can be made immediately to lower cancer risk for BRCA mutation carriers.