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New test helps deliver better cancer care

12:00am | & Health

Patients with cancers are being offered a new genetic test designed to help them and their doctors select the best available treatment for them.

Now available from the NHS in England, the new rapid test can help determine whether a patient should go ahead with chemotherapy treatment, opt for a lower chemotherapy dose, or use a different method of tackling tumours.

While most patients undergoing chemotherapy do not suffer severe side-effects, a small number taking a class of anti-cancer drugs called ‘fluoropyrimidines’ can suffer nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, breathlessness and severe skin reactions. In rare cases, the reaction can be fatal.

The new blood test detects a particular form of a gene in someone’s biological makeup which means they are less able to break down chemotherapy drugs in their body. As many as 40% of those who get tested are expected to benefit from starting on a lower dose, or have a different treatment altogether.

The test – previously only available at a small number of hospitals ­– will now rolled out across the country by NHS England. It is the latest in a series of groundbreaking innovations and ‘genomic’ discoveries adopted by the NHS to deliver world-leading personalised cancer care.

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS England National Clinical Director for Cancer, said: “Cancer survival rates are at a record high, but the condition still causes huge suffering for millions of patients and their loved ones every year. This test can help us treat people with cancer as safely as possible at what has been, and continues to be, an exceptionally a difficult time for millions of us.”

The NHS has prioritised cancer treatment during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing one million people to be referred for treatment for the disease within two weeks.

“The number of people having their cancer care with the NHS is back to levels we saw before COVID-19,” said Professor Johnson. “Nearly 350,000 people have had treatment since the first peak and, as the NHS continues to prioritise essential cancer care, this latest innovation is another important tool to ensure people in England get the best possible treatment.”

Cancer patient John McGuire (71) is undergoing chemotherapy for colorectal cancer at Guy’s Hospital, London. When he was given the new genetic test, he found to have the form of the gene, so was put on a lower dose.

John said: “I’m delighted with the treatment I’ve received from the team at Guy’s Hospital and have had little to no side-effects from my treatment. I’m nearly halfway through my treatment now and I think I’m going to be really happy with the outcome.”

John’s treatment aims to cure his cancer, and his medical team say he is progressing well.

Dr Simon Vincent, Director of Research, Support and Influencing at Breast Cancer Now, added: “The national rollout of this test is a welcome step towards ensuring that everyone being treated for cancer with chemotherapy is given the most appropriate, and kindest, treatment based on their genetic makeup.

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