The team from the Institute of Cancer Research, London, analyzed the DNA of around 86,000 women of European, 12,000 of Asian and 2,000 of African ancestries - around half of whom had breast cancer.

The genetic variants are specifically linked to the most common form of breast cancer - oestrogen receptor positive.

"The study zoomed in on an area of our genome that we knew was linked to breast cancer risk and has identified two new genetic variants that add significantly to our knowledge about the genetic causes of the disease," said study leader Nick Orr from the Institute of Cancer Research.

The study's identification of two new genetic risk factors for breast cancer provides important clues about the causes of the disease - implicating a gene called KLF4, which is thought to help control the way cells grow and divide.

Women with the first genetic variant identified, called rs10816625, were 12 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than women without, and those with the second variant, rs13294895, at a nine percent increased risk.

The research involved scientists from more than 130 institutions worldwide - including the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Cambridge.

The study was published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics.

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