Doctors at Queen Mary University of London have stated that all women should be tested for the BRCA Cancer gene regardless of their risk. Currently, only women who have a history of cancer in the family are tested. The team has advised that testing all women would prevent cancers, save lives and save the public health service money.
Published in the Journal of National Cancer Institute, the new study has estimated that testing all women over 30 in the UK would prevent 64,500 breast cancers, 17,500 ovarian cancers and possibly save 12,300 lives.
This would involve screening 27 million women for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, otherwise known as the Angelina Jolie gene after she famously campaigned for greater awareness of the mutation. The mutated genes impair the body’s ability to repair damage to DNA in cells. Currently, women have a 2% chance of getting ovarian cancer, while with the BRCA mutation this risk increases to between 10% and 60%. The figures are even higher for breast cancer, which women have a 12.5% risk of developing on average, increasing to 45% to 90% with the BRCA mutation.
This comes despite previous findings, by The Lancet Oncology, that young women with the BRCA gene are no less likely to survive cancer than other women without the gene. The study showed that having a double mastectomy post BRCA diagnosis did not improve survival over 10 years. It has given new hope to women with the gene, that they have more time than previously thought to find the best course of treatment.
As a result, the idea of mass testing may be less daunting than before the Lancet Oncology research was found, as if rolled out women who tested positive would have a longer course of time to decide the best way to reduce the risk of Cancer.
If tested positive the women would be monitored more closely for cancer, reducing the risk of it developing in the future. However, the study has outlined challenges to rolling out testing nationwide.
One main concern is how to offer counselling following a positive test, plus the logistics of testing so many women. However, Dr. Ranjit Manchanda – one of the researchers - maintains that it would be a positive step forward in treating cancer. She told the BBC:
‘It [would] prevent many more cancers and save many more lives.
‘But this is the first step in the process. We can't offer it immediately in the general population. We still need to understand how to deliver it.’
The UK’s National Screening Committee said it would look at the findings ‘with interest’.
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