Breast cancer gene could be available on NHS in months

A genetic test that determines the most suitable treatment for breast cancer patients could soon be available on the NHS

A genetic test that helps individual breast cancer patients get the best treatment could be available on the NHS by May.

The Oncotype DX test, which currently costs patients £2,600, is already used routinely in America and is currently being evaluated for use by the NHS.

The test works by reading the genes behind the most common form of breast cancer, and working out how likely the disease is to return after the initial tumour is removed.

It works on oestrogen-positive, node-negative breast cancer, which accounts for 48,000 cases of the disease diagnosed every year.

Post-surgery, a tissue sample is sent to the laboratory of Genomic Health, a life sciences company based in California. There, scientists assess the activity levels of 21 genes related to the growth and spread of the disease. This provides data concerning the chances of the cancer returning within a decade.

Those backing the test claim that it could prevent some women from having surgery and chemotherapy unnecessarily, and will ensure that those who need drugs are given them.

‘The ones we are most interested in are those who wouldn’t have received chemotherapy conventionally but turned out to need it.

‘They are the ones who were really likely to run into problems later on,’ says Simon Holt, the surgeon who led a trail of the test in a hospital in South Wales. ‘Recurrent breast cancer is really difficult to treat.’

The test, which was trialed at Llanelli’s Prince Philip Hospital, showed that 8 per cent of women who are normally denied chemotherapy were found to need it.

A further 21 per cent of women who would normally have received chemotherapy unnecessarily were spared it.

‘Oncotype DX changed the decision in around 30 per cent of cases,’ says Dr Holt. ‘That’s big.’

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