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BRCA screening could prevent 1000 cases of breast cancer a year

13 November 2017
Appeared in BioNews 926

Researchers have introduced new criteria to screen for BRCA mutations that could prevent more than 10,000 cases of breast cancer and save more than 2000 lives in the next decade.

A team at the Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London found that the number of women eligible for the BRCA genetic test would rise from current 12,000 a year to 27,000 a year.

Existing NHS guidelines are based on family history of cancer. They consider anyone with a 10 percent chance of having a BRCA mutation eligible for genetic testing. The new criteria are instead based on the type of breast cancer that the patient has and their age.

'This research could lead to a huge change in the way we use genetic testing for breast cancer patients,' said Professor Arnie Purushotham, senior clinical adviser at the Cancer Research UK and one of the scientists to devise the criteria. The new, simpler criteria will help spot more people with this mutation, he said.

'Armed with this valuable knowledge we can decide which treatments will work best and also identify family members with the same mutation who may also be at risk of developing cancer.'

The results, presented at the National Cancer Research Institute's Cancer Conference in Liverpool, found that the new criteria identified 110 patients with BRCA mutations in a cohort of 1020 individuals, giving an overall detection rate of 10.8 percent. Half of these cases would have been missed applying standard NHS protocols, the researchers said.

The criteria will be applied to all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and those with breast cancer who are under the age of 45, or under the age of 60 if the cancer has spread to both breasts. It will also be used for women with a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer known as triple negative, and the small number of men who develop breast cancer.

If BRCA mutations are identified in individuals, the screening would be extended to members of their family. Patients will then be offered closer monitoring and preventive treatments, such as mastectomy or removal of the ovaries.

Study leader Professor Nazneen Rahman, head of cancer genetics at the ICR and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said: 'It allows us to help more cancer patients to benefit from precision medicine, and it helps us prevent cancer occurring in healthy people. We are now working with other centres across the UK, Europe and America to roll out the system, so that many more people. We are now working with other centres across the UK, Europe and America to roll out the system, so that many more people can benefit and many more cancers can be prevented.'

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