Lifestyle Health

Saturday 20 January 2018

Cancer test can rule out need for chemotherapy

Ann Marie Meenan (left) listens to Dr Janice Walshe, consultant medical oncologist at St Vincent's
Hospital, speaking at the Westin Hotel in Dublin yesterday
Ann Marie Meenan (left) listens to Dr Janice Walshe, consultant medical oncologist at St Vincent's Hospital, speaking at the Westin Hotel in Dublin yesterday

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

Up to 200 women a year with breast cancer may be able to avoid chemotherapy treatment if a new diagnostic test becomes more widely available, it was claimed yesterday.

The test can help suggest the type of cancer treatment a woman needs and potentially save them having to undergo chemotherapy.

It analyses 21 genes in the tumour's genome and provides doctors with the likelihood of tumour recurrence over the next 10 years to determine whether chemotherapy would be beneficial.

The Oncotype DX genomic test, which costs about €3,000, is not yet available to public patients for free in the country's eight cancer centres and it is not covered by health insurers.

Mike Falahee, the sales and marketing manager of Genomic Health Ireland, makers of the test, said applications for its introduction into the public and private health insurance systems were being reviewed.

If introduced in Ireland, it would cost about €1.86m to test the 600 women here who develop breast cancer annually; a round of chemotherapy can cost up to €10,000.

Dr Janice Walshe, a medical oncologist in St Vincent's Hospital, said the test, which was trialled on 150,000 women in 55 countries including Ireland, could help avoid under-treatment or over-treatment.

The tests are taken by means of a tissue sample and are sent for molecular analysis to a laboratory in the US, with a results turnaround time of seven days.


The test is available at the Beacon Hospital in Dublin, but patients have to pay full price.

On average, where the test is in use, there has been a 32pc change in treatment recommended by cancer specialists based on the results.

Speaking in Dublin yesterday, Dr Hope Rugo, a cancer specialist at the University of California, said it was a very accurate test if the analysis was carried out in a laboratory with the right expertise.

Ann Marie Meenan (49), a medical scientist from Castleknock who was with Dr Rugo yesterday, told of how the test convinced her doctor to treat her with chemotherapy when she was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer last year.

The mother of two said that although she had no symptoms, she went for a mammogram -- and found out she had the disease. She said the test provided confirmation that she would benefit from chemotherapy.

"To me, it was a no-brainer to have the test," she said. "Without this test, I might have opted not to have it."

She underwent 12 weeks of chemotherapy.

"It was very tough but, equally, if I did not need to undergo the chemotherapy, it would have been a shame to have had to go through it," she said.

A spokesperson for National Cancer Control Programme, which will decide whether to introduce it into public hospitals, said it was too early to determine the safety and efficacy of the test and that it would be some years before these aspects would be known.

Irish Independent

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