Cancer research into hereditary links could reduce deaths, Irish conference told
One of the world's most renowned physicians has revealed his groundbreaking research into cancer prevention at an Irish symposium.
Dr Kenneth Offit's new study strengthened the link between hereditary characteristics and cases of cancer, and it is hoped that the research could be applied to dramatically reduce cancer-related deaths.
The findings were presented at the third Annual O'Brien Science Lecture at the O'Brien Centre for Science in UCD. Businessman Denis O'Brien also attended the talk.
Dr Kenneth Offit, Chief of the Clinical Genetics Service in the Department of Medicine at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York, discovered that identifying cancer-causing genes passed on through families could prevent common strains of the disease.
The study is the first to document the outcome of preventative ovarian surgery and screening in women at hereditary risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Dr Offit said that the new information could be used to treat the most common forms of cancer - breast cancer among women and prostate cancer among men.
"In both of these cancers, the good news is that we have a ready method of prevention and early detection," he said.
His team identified the most common mutation associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer among those with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.
One in 50 women with that ancestry carry BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations, meaning that they have an 80pc risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.
The team found that once the genes were identified in patients, there was a decreased risk of those cancers following surgical procedures to remove the ovaries.
However, Dr Offit added that the research could also be applied to other hereditary forms of the disease, such as colon cancer.
"It's equally hereditary, though it doesn't get as much public attention," he said. "Colon cancer is, we think, completely preventable with a procedure called a colonoscopy and now we have genetic testing that can be used as well."
Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in Ireland. The Irish Cancer Society estimates that one in 10 women in Ireland will contract the disease at some stage in their lives.
Dr Offit encouraged people to look back at their family history to check if relatives had suffered from certain forms of cancer, and to talk to their GP if they had concerns.
He also stressed that these new findings needed to be implemented and accessible to both health professionals and patients in the next few years.
"We need to work much harder in the medical profession to increase awareness and accessibility to preventative and medical care,” he said.
“From what I’ve seen in Ireland, you have almost all of the resources in place to make great progress.”
“I think the key to this is going to be increasing access and availability to the excellent medical knowledge you have,” he added. “You have some of the leading thinkers and physicians in these areas.”