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Cancer patients offered genetic test to select best treatment

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A new test will help cancer patients on the NHS discover the best way to progress their treatment

The NHS is offering cancer patients a new rapid test to help decide whether to go ahead with treatment, opt for a lower dose or use a different method of tackling tumours.

While most patients undergoing chemotherapy do not suffer severe side effects, a small number taking certain drugs called fluoropyrimidines (5-FU and capecitabine) can suffer nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, breathlessness and severe skin reactions and, in rare cases, the reaction can be fatal.

The blood test detects a particular form of a gene which means that someone is less able to break down chemotherapy drugs in their body.

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS England national clinical director for cancer, said: “Cancer survival rates are at a record high, but the condition still causes huge suffering for millions of patients and their loved ones every year.

“This test can help us to treat people with cancer as safely as possible, at what has been and continues to be an exceptionally difficult time for millions of us.

“The number of people having their cancer care with the NHS is back to levels we saw before COVID-19, with nearly 350,000 having treatment since the first peak, and as the NHS continues to prioritise essential cancer care, this latest innovation is another important tool to ensure people in England get the best possible treatment.”

The test, which was only previously available at a small number of hospitals, will now be funded across the country by NHS England.

Professor Dame Sue Hill, chief scientific officer for England and senior responsible officer for genomics in NHS England, said: “This announcement marks an important moment for how genomics can help tailor treatments to make them safer for patients with cancer.

“As our understanding of the role our DNA plays in disease grows, we will be able to use this approach to help develop personalised treatments for other conditions and embed genomics into routine care.”

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