Scientists are urging the NHS to introduce fast-track DNA tests to identify women with a high risk of developing cancer.
Blood tests could reveal which women have the BRCA mutant gene, which increases their likelihood of suffering from breast or ovarian cancer. Academics at the Institute of Cancer Research believe the DNA tests, which cost £300, should be given to all female patients who have been given an ovarian cancer diagnosis.
The researchers carried out a trial which found those who were found to have the BRCA mutation at an early stage were given better care. A total of 207 patients with ovarian cancer at the Royal Marsden hospital took the test and 33 of these discovered they had the mutant gene.
Movie star Angelina Jolie, who is married to Brad Pitt, hit the headlines when she underwent a double mastectomy and had her ovaries removed after finding out she had the BRCA gene. The mother-of-six felt these operations could potentially save her life after her own mother died of ovarian cancer when she was just 56.
The DNA tests which can spot people who have the BRCA gene are already carried out by the NHS. However, the long wait times mean many patients end up not taking the test or are left in limbo for many months before getting the results.
Fast-track results will improve survival rates, researchers claim
If the team at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) has its way, the NHS will start using a fast-track version of the tests, which could be carried out at cancer clinics all over the country. If these tests, which use a quicker and more streamlined process, are brought in, patients will find out their results within three weeks.
The ICR’s head of cancer genetics, Professor Nazneen Rahman, believes offering people genetic screening as soon as they find out they have ovarian cancer could improve their chances of survival and alert other members of their family to their increased risk if the BRCA mutation is found.
She said: “I think the real benefit of this is in prevention. About 1,000 of the 7,000 ovarian cancers a year [in the UK] are due to this BRCA mutation. In theory, all of these are preventable.”
Every year, 2,500 women in the UK develop ovarian or breast cancer as a result of having the BRCA gene. Identifying people with this genetic mutation will allow other female family members to come forward for testing so preventative measures can be taken if necessary
The ICR, which published its study in Scientific Reports, believe the fast-track tests have the potential to save the NHS a total of £2.6 million each year.
As well as saving lives, DNA tests can change them for the better. Paternity tests can end years of recriminations and doubts by allowing men to find out for certain whether they are the biological father of a child.
Tests can also identify other biological relationships so people can find out the truth about who they are and where they come from.