More women can be tested for breast and ovarian cancer risk after changes to national guidelines

20.09.2013 14:26

MORE women can now be tested
for ovarian and breast cancer
risk regardless of their family
history, after new research
showed genetic mutations are
more common than previously
From today, new national
guidelines will mean women aged
70 or under who are diagnosed
with ovarian cancer can receive
genetic testing to look for BRCA1
and BRCA2 gene mutations.
Familiar cancer centres have only
previously tested for mutations in
about 10 per cent of the 1300
Australian women diagnosed with
ovarian cancer each year.
The basis for the new guidelines is
research by Peter MacCallum
Cancer Centre’s Dr Gillian Mitchell
and Professor David Bowtell, whose
findings contradicted conventional
thinking that only women with a
family history could carry the BRCA
The genes give women an increased
40-80 chance of breast cancer and
10-60 per cent for ovarian.Dr Mitchell, director of Peter Mac’s
Familiar Cancer Centre, said the
new guidelines would alert a new
cohort of women to their risk.
Previously women have been tested
if their risk of carrying the
mutation was more than 10 per
cent, based on complicated
algorithms including family history,
their age and type of tumour.
"We can now say very easily to the
doctors looking after women with
ovarian cancer that we don’t need
to do anything complicated, just
knowing that the woman has
ovarian cancer under the age of 70
is enough," Dr Mitchell said.
"It will change their treatment in
the future. There are new drugs
being developed and trialled, which
have been shown in early results to
work better in women with these
It comes as familiar cancer centres
across the country are dealing with
the "Angelina Jolie-effect", after the
actor went public about her high
cancer risk.
Peter MacCallum are on track to
double the number of referrals and
receive 2000 patients for genetic
testing this year.
Mother-of-two Karen Livingstone,
47, said confirmation of having the
BRCA2 gene mutation was
devastating, but empowering.
Ms Livingstone had her fallopian
tube and one ovary removed, and is
booked to have her other ovary
taken out to complete the
oophorectomy procedure, which
Angelina Jolie is now considering.
"There is no screening for ovarian
cancer — that’s how it can grow so
rapidly without being diagnosed,"
said Ms Livingstone.
"It’s incredibly important to know
you have the risk, so you can be
extra vigilant."