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Saturday 25 November 2017

Breast cancer tests rise sharply after star Jolie's operation

Angelina Jolie: had a double mastectomy to prevent cancer
Angelina Jolie: had a double mastectomy to prevent cancer

Sam Griffin

HOSPITALS offering genetic screening for breast and ovarian cancer have seen a substantial increase in referrals since actress Angelina Jolie revealed she had a double mastectomy to prevent cancer.

The Oscar-winning actress announced in May she had both breasts removed after learning she carried a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, which increases the chance of a woman getting breast cancer by up to 80pc.

Genetic testing can determine if a woman or family member carries a gene or mutation that could cause cancer.

Such testing is carried out in a number of Dublin hospitals, including the cancer genetics services at the Mater Private and the Mater public hospital, as well as the oncology unit in St James's Hospital and the National Centre for Medical Genetics (NCMG) based in Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin.

All four clinics here have reported increases in the number of people being referred by their GPs for screening since the revelations.

Oncologist Dr David Gallagher said referrals to the services in the Mater hospitals and at St James's were up sharply and there had been "a massive amount" of calls from women concerned they might be carrying the gene since mid-May, when actress Jolie made her announcement.

"In the weeks after the story emerged, I would say I was getting anywhere between 60-70 referrals per week. Overall, there's been a 400pc increase in referrals across the three separate services," Dr Gallagher told the Irish Independent.

The test is only offered to people in certain cases where a number of criteria are met and is usually only available after a patient is referred by a GP or cancer specialist. Those referred typically have a family history of genetic abnormalities or are people already diagnosed with certain types of cancer.

For those wishing to be screened on the public healthcare system, only those with a greater than 10pc chance of a genetic abnormality receive testing.

Prof Andrew Green, director at the NCMG, said there had been a 20pc increase in referrals for genetic testing in the past month and attributed the increase to the recent media coverage of cancer genetics.

The average waiting time to be screened at NCMG is around one year. Waiting times for the Mater public and at St James's Hospital are shorter at six months, as these are newer services. Screening at the Mater Private usually takes two weeks.

The test itself involves extracting DNA from a sample of blood, which is then analysed in Britain. Results can take up to three months to be processed, according to Dr Gallagher.

Irish Independent

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