Chief Medical Officer calls for routine DNA testing for cancer patients

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, says in her annual report that whole genome screening (WGS) should become as standard as blood tests and biopsies within the next five years.

Knowledge of genetic makeup could lead to more effective personalised treatment for cancer patients across the country. This is particularly important for ovarian cancer patients as survival rates are poor, with only 46% of women surviving beyond five years.

Errors in human DNA can lead to cancer and other illnesses. Sometimes such errors are inherited from parent, but other times they occur in previously healthy cells.

WGS can reveal these errors by comparing tumour and normal DNA samples from the patient. This information can lead to tailored treatment for patients, as it is possible to select the drugs most likely to be effective.

If a drug is unlikely to be effective it can be avoided, preventing unnecessary suffering from side-effects.

Dame Sally wants DNA testing to become standard across cancer care, as well as some other areas of medicine. Currently access to genetic testing varies across the UK, and Ovarian Cancer Action campaigns to change this as part of its cancer prevention strategy.

Katherine Taylor, Chief Executive at Ovarian Cancer action, said:

“Offering ovarian cancer patients genetic testing is a vital part of their care. At Ovarian Cancer Action we campaign for women with ovarian cancer to be offered this testing at the point of diagnosis.

“It's critical information for their individual treatment and for their families, who can go on to find out if they too are at risk.”

Dame Sally said patients could be assured that their genetic data would be stored securely and "de-identified" so that their privacy would be protected.

Find out more about BRCA gene mutations , genetic testing, and hereditary ovarian cancer.