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Angelina Jolie. Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

Angelina Jolie. Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

Angelina Jolie. Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

WOMEN in Ireland face an 18-month wait for the potentially life-saving cancer test taken by Angelina Jolie.

WOMEN in Ireland face an 18-month wait for the potentially life-saving cancer test taken by Angelina Jolie.

Chronic funding failures mean women at risk of the same breast cancer as the Hollywood actress must endure an agonising wait to see if they have the same life-threatening gene.

Clinics offering genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer are expecting a surge in inquiries following Angelina Jolie's announcement that she has undergone a mastectomy in a bid to prevent cancer.

But given that health insurers do not cover the test and the cost is prohibitive at €1,400, many women might find themselves priced out of making the potentially life-saving discovery.

The Irish Cancer Society said the health service budget issues mean that the lengthy wait is unavoidable.

"The test results can be known within about six weeks, but there's a shortage of funds, so the waiting list is about 18 months," said Niamh Fitzgibbon of the Irish Cancer Society.

Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin said today the Government must provide the resources so that "women who need genetic testing will get it as a matter of necessity," and he urged its availabity should be enhanced.

"At the moment, the tests are going to Birmingham. The National Centre for Medical Genetics in Crumlin requires new equipment and extra capital resources," he said.

 

DRAMATIC

The Oscar-winning actress and mum-of-six revealed that she underwent a preventative double mastectomy after learning that she carries a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, which sharply increases her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Her mother, Marcheline, died in 2007 after a 10-year battle with cancer.

The cancer genetics service at the Mater Hospital in Dublin expects a dramatic increase in testing. Consultant surgeon and senior lecturer Malcolm Kell explained: "BRCA1 or BRCA2 is a genetic abnormality.

"If you have that abnormality it strongly increases your lifetime risk of developing most commonly a breast cancer, but also ovarian cancer, sometimes prostate cancer and then, less commonly, some other forms of gastro-intestinal tumours."

However, he explained that the number of Irish women with such a gene is one in 20.

"The number of women in Ireland with BRCA1 gene is relatively low at 5pc," he said.

The BRCA gene test is offered only to people who have an inherited mutation, based on personal or family history, or who have specific types of breast cancer.

Most women who carry mutations in BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 have a risk of breast cancer of approximately 80pc by age 70, in contrast to the lifetime risk of approximately 8pc for most women.

The National Centre for Medical Genetics (NCMG), based in Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin, Dublin, under Professor Andrew Green, carries out hundreds of tests every year.

"Those suitable for testing are often identified initially by surgical or medical oncologists," Prof Green told the Herald.

 

COUNSELLING

If a specific gene alteration is identified in an individual, then others in the family can come forward for the predictive testing.

"Counselling is always done before predictive tests are done," Prof Green explained.

"We are publicly funded to provide this service. There is a waiting list of nine to 12 months."

The results take around six to eight weeks.

"Children are not tested. Also, we know some people choose not to have testing. Some choose to have regular surveillance, including mammograms. Others decide to have prophylactic surgery, having their breasts removed.

"My impression is that less than half choose to have preventative mastectomies, but there is no official data," he said.

See Terry Prone, Page 14


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