Faster, Cheaper BRCA Gene-Testing Process Has Helped 1,000 UK Cancer Patients

Faster, Cheaper BRCA Gene-Testing Process Has Helped 1,000 UK Cancer Patients

One-thousand patients with ovarian cancer (OC) and breast cancer (BC) have now gained access to a faster BRCA gene-testing process due to an innovative approach developed by U.K. researchers that is showing positive outcomes.

The testing process was created through the Mainstreaming Cancer Genetics programme, funded by the Wellcome Trust, with researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London.

The approach stemmed from a pilot program in 2013, developed by ICR researchers and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. The pilot gained attention quickly and in 2014, eligible cancer patients gained access to mainstream gene testing of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, and the process became routine practice at the Royal Marsden.

Since 2014, 1,000 cancer patients have undergone gene testing using this new process, which does not increase costs. These 1,000 patients received “mainstream” gene testing through an innovative process that makes it more affordable for cancer patients.

Until now cancer patients could access gene testing only if referred to a genetics clinic, even if they were eligible for testing. The new routine cancer clinic appointments aim to facilitate a more efficient and patient-centered testing.

“There were two main problems with the traditional system for gene testing. Firstly, gene itself testing was slow and expensive, and secondly the process for accessing gene testing was slow and complex,” Nazneen Rahman, professor and head of cancer genetics at ICR, said in a press release. “We used new DNA sequencing technology to make a fast, accurate, affordable cancer gene test, which is now used across the U.K. We then simplified test eligibility and brought testing to patients in the cancer clinic, rather than making them have another appointment, often in another hospital,” said Rahman.

The Royal Marsden is now offering tests to three times more patients a year than before the program. The new pathway also is faster, with results arriving within four weeks, as opposed to the previous 20-week waiting period.

“Having the BRCA test result is very helpful when discussing the surgical options with breast cancer patients. Some women with a BRCA mutation choose to have bilateral mastectomy because their risk of getting a new cancer in either breast is increased. It has been great to be able to quickly and directly arrange for testing at the cancer clinic,” said Fiona MacNeill, Royal Marsden consultant surgeon and Association of Breast Surgery’s (ABS) president.

The patient response also has been positive, with more than 95% of cancer patients requesting to be tested using the new process, the researchers claim.

“The main reason we wanted to change the system was because patients were telling us that they wanted to have better access to gene testing. We are delighted patients have found it so helpful and that it is more cost-effective for our cash-strapped NHS,” Rahman added. “Many other centers across the country and internationally are adopting mainstream gene testing. This will help many women with cancer and will prevent cancers in their relatives,” Rahman said.