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Quick and cheap DNA tests for ovarian cancer patients 'would save lives'

18 July 2016

By Hannah Somers

Appeared in BioNews 860

Researchers have developed a new pathway for genetically testing ovarian cancer patients which they say will save both lives and money.

The aim of the pathway is to rapidly identify those 15 percent of ovarian cancer patients whose disease is caused by BRCA gene mutations, allowing these patients to receive personalised treatment.

Study leader Professor Nazneen Rahman of the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London said: 'We know BRCA gene testing can be greatly beneficial for women with ovarian cancer, allowing their care to be tailored to their individual genetic information, and improving the cancer risk information we can provide to their families. Our new gene testing pathway is faster, simpler and better designed for cancer patients' needs than the standard NHS process.'

She added: 'There would be 283 fewer cancers and 77 fewer deaths a year – it really does save lives and money.'

The study was carried out at the Royal Marsden NHS Hospital Trust and involved 207 ovarian cancer patients. The streamlined pathway developed by researchers allows patients to give consent and undergo genetic testing at routine screening appointments, as opposed to having to wait for referral to specialised clinics. These tests were carried out by medical staff, trained using online modules designed by the research team. Each test costs just £300 per patient.

Ovarian cancer patients with BRCA gene mutations can be treated with a class of drugs called PARP, Poly(ADP-ribose) polymerases, inhibitors that only works in this class of patients. They are also more likely to develop breast cancer, so need to be monitored closely.

All patients identified as carrying a BRCA gene mutation were automatically referred to a genetics team to discuss the implications for themselves and their families. On average, three family members of patients who tested positive for BRCA mutations also met with geneticists discuss their own risks.

The study, which was published in Scientific Reports, cut the time from getting tested to receiving results from 20 weeks to just four. Currently, less than one-third of the 7100 ovarian cancer patients diagnosed in the UK receive BRCA testing. The researchers hope that their new system will be used for all of them.

The authors of the study also estimate that the implementation of this pathway would save the NHS around £2.6 million per year.

Professor Paul Workman, the chief executive of ICR, said: 'Twenty years ago the BRCA2 gene was identified at the ICR. This study is an excellent example of how science such as this can be turned into something very practical that can improve the patient care and save lives.'

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