Hunt for women with hidden cancer risk

The tissue samples of 11,000 women will be tested for BRCA gene mutations.

The tissue samples of 11,000 women will be tested for BRCA gene mutations. Photo: ABC

Thousands of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will be tested to see if they are hidden carriers of the gene that can cause the deadly disease.

The Traceback program at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne will test tissue samples of 11,000 women diagnosed between 2001 and 2016 to see if they are carriers of the BRCA gene mutations.

People with BRCA mutations are at an increased risk of breast, ovarian and prostate cancers.

Professor David Bowtell from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre said at least 1500 of the women may have unknowingly inherited a BRCA mutation.

“BRCA1 and 2 mutations occur in up to 20 per cent of patients with ovarian cancer, particularly those with a serious type of the disease,” he said.

Before the Traceback program, there had been no active program in finding women who missed the opportunity to be tested for both mutations, experts said.

“When it is fully implemented, Traceback has the potential to prevent thousands of cases of ovarian and breast cancer,” Professor Bowtell said.

Some of the patients whose tissue is being tested may have already died, so if a mutation is detected, it’s expected their close family members will want to be tested.

‘This will prevent other people from developing cancer’

Sydney psychologist Kirstin Young said if her family had been tested for the mutations, she might not have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

“My father had prostate cancer and his sister had breast cancer, so my oncologist suggested I should be tested for the BRCA mutations,” she said.

She discovered she had the BRCA2 mutation.

“Being able to go back and test these patients samples is fantastic, as this is the kind of research that will prevent other people from developing cancer,” she said.

Ms Young now has regular screenings and is taking a targeted cancer therapy, which is keeping her well.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Federal Government would give $3 million to the project.

“Approximately 1500 Australian women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year and it’s estimated that more than 1000 died,” he said.

“The results of this project will help women understand their risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer and allow them to consider taking preventative action.”


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