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Genetic test offers hope to women with breast cancer

A new genetic test which could spare women unnecessary chemotherapy, by working out how likely or not a cancer is to spread, has now been approved for use on the NHS.

It is thought that around 9,700 patients with some types of early stage breast cancer could have the Oncotype DX test each year, and it is estimated that in around a third of cases the treatment offered would change as a result of the test.

It is aimed at women who are at “indeterminate” risk of their cancer spreading, and so currently undergo chemotherapy as a precautionary measure.

In cases where the cancer is deemed unlikely to spread women would not need chemotherapy anymore; whereas in cases where the cancer is deemed likely to spread, stronger doses of chemotherapy are likely to be used in the hope of beating the disease.  Overall, this test offers a more positive outlook for women with breast cancer, as it gives them more information about their disease, ensuring that they receive the treatment which is right for them.

A British trial into the test in 2011 found that 46% of women with the most common form of early breast cancer (ER+) could avoid needless additional chemotherapy due to the results of the test.

Professor Carole Longson, health technology evaluation centre director of Nice, said, "Breast cancer patients face significant emotional and psychological strain when considering chemotherapy.  A test that can help to predict better the risk of the breast cancer spreading, and therefore the potential likely benefit of additional chemotherapy, represents a significant step forward for patients."

Written by Kirsty Markham, a member of our specialist medical negligence department in Havant and Southampton.

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