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Genome testing for cancer patients should become the norm

Tuesday 4th July 2017
All cancer patients should have their genetic code tested to determine the best treatments for their needs, according to the UKs chief medical officer. Image: digitalgenetics via iStock
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Cancer patients in Britain should be offered genetic testing so they can be better informed about which types of treatment are likely to have the best results in line with their unique DNA, a new report states.
 
The UK's chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies wants genome screening for cancer patients to become as routine as blood tests and biopsies within the next five years.
 
Dame Sally made this call in her annual report, in which she highlighted that while more than 31,000 people throughout the country have already had their genetic code screened, the long-term outcomes for tens of thousands more could potentially be significantly improved if this was rolled out more widely.
 
She stated: "I want the NHS across the whole breadth to be offering genomic medicine - that means diagnosis of our genes - to patients where they can possibly benefit."
 
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Dame Sally suggested that the NHS would benefit from creating centralised laboratories where this genetic testing could be carried out, which would lead to more opportunities for biomedical scientists.
 
By looking at patients' genetic make-up, scientists would be able to determine which treatments are likely to be most effective for their individual needs. As a result, this could prevent patients from being put at risk of adverse side effects from certain medications and could also potentially lengthen their prognosis.
 
If Dame Sally's "genomic dream" does indeed become a reality in a few years' time, it could dramatically improve outcomes for patients and give them greater control over their treatment plans, but some have raised concerns over the handling of such large volumes of sensitive data by labs and hospitals.
 
Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Phil Booth of MedConfidential said: "Every single use of patient data must be consensual, safe and transparent."
 
He added that there would also need to be an option for patients to opt out of genetic testing if they were uncomfortable with the idea.
 
Written by Martin Lambert
 
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