New test alerts on breast cancer gene

THOUSANDS of women living in the shadow of inherited cancer will be able to have a new test – discovered by Newcastle scientists – to see if they are carrying a cancer-causing gene.

THOUSANDS of women living in the shadow of inherited cancer will be able to have a new test – discovered by Newcastle scientists – to see if they are carrying a cancer-causing gene.

Elizabeth Bryan, Professor John Burn

Researchers at Newcastle University’s Institute of Human Genetics have invented a new method of testing for a gene which brings with it an extremely high risk of breast cancer.

The breakthrough means thousands more women will be able to have the test, which will be available on the NHS from next year. There are 30,000 cases of breast cancer each year and of those approximately one in 20 women carry of the BRCA1 gene.

Although relatively rare, for women carrying the gene there is a 80% chance of breast cancer.

Medical director Prof John Burn, based at the Centre for Life, said of the development: “We are the first to move on this. Technologically this is a breakthrough that is keeping us at the forefront of diagnostic testing.

“It takes us up to a whole new level, comparable to moving from horse drawn carts to cars.”

Current testing for the BRCA1 gene using a blood sample costs £1,000 and only women with a strong family history of breast cancer are given it on the NHS.

But the new method discovered by Newcastle scientists is quicker and far more cost effective at just £100.

The procedure does not test for cancer but alerts women to the gene so they can have further screening or take preventative action.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence has issued guidance that this test will be available on the NHS from next year. “Currently we restrict the test to families who have the highest risk of breast cancer. Now we can offer it to many more people,” said Prof Burn.

Carrier Elizabeth Bryan, 65, of Herefordshire, is currently battling terminal cancer after she and her two sisters inherited the gene.

The paediatrician of 30 years has worked closely with geneticist Prof Burn and provided a blood sample for the trials. “Anything that can speed up the detection of the gene and make it far more available to far more people is enormously exciting,” she said.

Mrs Bryan lost one sister to ovarian cancer and saw her second fight breast cancer twice. She was inspired to write a book Singing the Life about her family living in the shadow of cancer which is now on sale.

To mark its launch in the North-East, she will be giving a free lecture at the Centre for Life tonight at 6pm about her experiences.

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