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Thousands to benefit from new cancer test

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Thousands of breast cancer patients could be spared chemotherapy after scientists developed a new test which shows if the disease is likely to return.

The new test, which will increase the options open to doctors, is called MammaPrint and was designed by the University of California. It looks for 70 gene variants in blood or saliva which are known to increase the risk of cancer returning. It can predict which women are at low risk for years after they have surgery to remove cancerous tumours and could allow half of early stage breast cancer patients to avoid the severe physical and emotional side-effects which come with chemotherapy.

St Vincent's Hospital oncologist John Crown said Irish patients already have access to a similar test, known as Oncotype DX.

It can determine whether a woman can get significant benefit from chemotherapy.

In October 2011, Ireland became the first country in Europe to publicly fund the test and it has been made available to public and private patients here.

An early study showed that of 583 women who were screened, 339 were given hormone therapy alone after it was found they would have derived minimal or no benefit from chemotherapy.

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