People in England with Jewish ancestry to be offered test to detect cancer risk | Cancer

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Tens of thousands of people in England with Jewish ancestry, who have a higher risk of developing certain cancers, are to be offered a genetic test on the NHS.

People with Jewish ancestry are about six times more likely to carry faults in their BRCA genes than the general population. The new scheme forms part of a national drive by health leaders to identify more people with a higher risk of cancer, in an effort to spot and treat the disease earlier.

BRCA refers to two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, which repair DNA damage and normally help to protect against cancer. Some people are born with a fault in one of the genes, which increases their likelihood of developing certain cancers, including breast, ovarian, prostate and pancreatic cancer.

A fault in one of the BRCA genes affects about one in 400 people, but the NHS said people with Jewish ancestry were six times more likely to carry the faults.

NHS England is introducing a national BRCA gene testing programme to pick up changes that push up cancer risk, with anyone over 18 with Jewish ancestry offered a simple saliva test. Saliva samples are done at home and then sent to a lab for testing.

Anyone with a Jewish grandparent can register for a saliva kit to be sent to them by visiting Jewish BRCA.

The programme aims to identify thousands more people carrying faults in the BRCA genes over the next two years. They would be able to have regular scans to check for tumour growth and access treatment more quickly if necessary. NHS England expects to test about 30,000 people over the next two years.

Peter Johnson, the national cancer clinical director for NHS England, said: “We know it can be daunting finding out whether or not you have an altered BRCA gene, and some people may feel they’d rather not know, but finding out early means people can get the support they need from the NHS.

“We want as many people as possible to take advantage of this testing programme, so please do come forward for a simple saliva test if you are eligible. Most people won’t have an altered gene, but if you do, the NHS can provide you with further testing, surveillance or treatment as early as possible.”

Nicole Gordon, the chief executive of the charity Jnetics, said the gene test scheme would “offer the Jewish community a huge opportunity to gain the knowledge that will help mitigate against the impact of hereditary cancer and ultimately save lives”.

Lisa Steele, the chief executive of the charity Chai Cancer Care, described the launch as “a landmark moment”.

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