New research will reveal cancer risk

By James Martin, March 26, 2009

A research project has been launched which could lead to every Ashkenazi adult in the UK being offered a genetic test to determine the risk of developing cancer.

The Eve Appeal, a charity supporting research at University College London’s Gynaecological Cancer Research Centre, has started the project in association with the Institute for Women’s Health (IWH) and Boots. The four-year project, known as Genetic Cancer Prediction Through Population Screening (GCaPPS), hopes to find 10,000 people who have four Ashkenazi grandparents to identify the best way of preventing inherited cancers.

Dr Ranjit Manchanda, a researcher at UCL’s Department of Gynaecological Research, said Ashkenazi Jews were “10 to 20 times” more likely than the general population to carry alterations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes which increase the risk of developing ovarian, breast and prostate cancer.

Half of those selected for the screening will go through the existing screening system, which tests only those with a family history. The other half will be offered screening irrespective of family history.

“At present, free testing on the NHS is only available to individuals who have a strong family link with cancer,” said Dr Manchanda. “But many people may be unaware of their family history. That strategy may fail to identify up to 40 per cent of ‘at risk’ people.”

Professor Ian Jacobs, director of the IWH, hoped the project would lead to a reduction in the number of cancers in the community.

“The data [from the project] will provide the basis for decision-making about the introduction of BRCA population testing among the Ashkenazi Jews and other populations. But before taking such a major step we need to be confident that the benefits of this sort of testing outweigh the disadvantages.”

As well as establishing whether population screening detects more gene carriers, the study will also examine the impact on participants of knowing they are at higher risk of cancer.

Jewish Care, Liberal and Reform Judaism and the Agudas Israel Housing Association are supporting the project.

Cancer survivor welcomes project

A woman who has survived breast cancer twice thinks that free genetic testing would be “a wonderful boost” for those who fear they have faulty BRCA genes.

Former fitness instructor Angela Cox, 61, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996 and again in 2001. Her daughter Sarah, 34, had a preventive double mastectomy two years ago.

“At the moment it’s up to people to apply for testing which can be difficult and depends on your local health authority,” said Mrs Cox, who lives in Oxhey. “The more available testing is the better, as it gives an early idea of the risk of getting certain cancers,” she added.

Last updated: 11:31am, March 26 2009