Tens of thousands of people with Jewish ancestry who are more likely to carry a genetic fault that can increase the risk of developing some cancers will receive genetic testing through a new programme announced today by the NHS in England.
With plans to identify thousands more people carrying faults in the BRCA genes over the next two years so they can seek early access to surveillance and prevention services, the testing programme is part of the NHS’s major drive to catch tumours early when they are easier to treat.
Peter Johnson is National Clinical Director for Cancer at NHS England.
He said: “BRCA testing for the people most at risk has the potential to save lives, by allowing them to take steps to reduce the chance of cancers developing or making sure that any cancer can be detected as early as possible, with those at increased risk able to take advantage of surveillance and prevention programmes with their health teams.
“We know it can be daunting finding out whether or not you have an altered BRCA gene, and some people may feel they’d rather not know, but finding out early means people can get the support they need from the NHS.”
BRCA refers to two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, which repair DNA damage and normally help to protect against cancer.
Some people are born with a fault in one of these genes, and this increases their likelihood of developing certain cancers, including breast, ovarian, prostate and pancreatic cancer.
Those with Jewish ancestry are around six times more likely to carry such genetic faults than the general population.
The new national NHS Jewish BRCA Testing Programme will see anyone over the age of 18 with Jewish ancestry offered a simple genetic saliva test to look for the presence of the faults.
The saliva samples will be carried out at home before being sent to labs for testing.
Individuals with at least one Jewish grandparent can register for a saliva kit to be sent to their home address.
Charities Jnetics and Chai Cancer Care have been running an engagement campaign to help raise awareness in Jewish communities and encourage a significant number of people with Jewish ancestry to come forward for a free test.
Jnetics CEO, Nicole Gordon, said: “We are delighted to see the NHS Jewish BRCA Testing Programme officially launch.
“The initial pilot phase has proven to be a huge success and we are now able to roll this out more broadly and offer the Jewish community a huge opportunity to gain the knowledge that will help mitigate against the impact of hereditary cancer and ultimately save lives.”
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, added: “This innovative new programme could help save more lives from cancer and we’d encourage anyone eligible to take up the testing offer.
“Crucially, identifying more people at increased risk of breast cancer due to BRCA gene alterations will help empower them with the knowledge and opportunity to take action to reduce their risk of developing the disease and increase the chances of an early diagnosis.
“This must go hand-in-hand with support.
“We know that finding out you have an increased risk of breast cancer, because of a family history or an altered gene, can be a worrying time and there is support available.
“You can speak to our expert nurses on our free helpline, on 0808 800 6000.”
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