Simple saliva test for breast and prostate cancer will soon be available at your GP for just 5

5 saliva test that assesses risk of cancer: It will be available at your GP surgery
Test would detect high risk of breast cancer and prostate tumours
Patients could then be monitored to catch tumours at early stageGenetic testing come about after four years of analysis by 1,000 scientists
Doubled the number of genes linked to breast, ovarian and prostate cancers

By
Fiona Macrae

PUBLISHED:

16:03 GMT, 27 March 2013

|

UPDATED:

00:38 GMT, 28 March 2013

A saliva swab that tests for the genetic risk of two of the deadliest cancers could soon be available at GPs’ surgeries.

The 5 test would help detect women with a high risk of breast cancer and men who are genetically prone to prostate tumours.

Patients could then be monitored to catch any tumours in their early stages – while the chances of survival are still high.

Within just five years, 5 saliva tests given at GPs' surgeries could help pinpoint women at high risk of breast cancer and detect men genetically prone to prostate tumours. Posed by models

Within just five years, 5 saliva tests given at GPs' surgeries could help pinpoint women at high risk of breast cancer and detect men genetically prone to prostate tumours. Posed by models

The exciting possibility of genetic testing has come about after four years of genetic analysis by more than 1,000 scientists.

By comparing the DNA of cancer
patients and healthy men and women, they more than doubled the number of
genes linked to breast, ovarian and prostate cancers.

With around 150 breast and prostate
cancer genes now identified, scientists believe they can create simple
blood or saliva tests that reliably predict the odds of breast and
prostate cancers.

At first, the samples would have to be
sent off to a laboratory for analysis. However, it might one day be
possible to get instant test results at your GP’s surgery.

The results of the study could also
lead to new drugs for hard-to-treat cancers and a test to determine the
risk of ovarian cancer. The same technique could be used to assess the
risk of bowel and lung cancers.

Dr Harpal Kumar, of Cancer Research
UK, which part-funded the DNA analysis of more than 200,000 people,
said: ‘By understanding why some people seem to be at greater risk of
developing cancer we can look towards an era where we can take steps to
reduce their chances of getting cancer or pick up the disease at its
earliest stages. The principle is broad and the potential gains are
huge.’

Almost 100,000 cases of breast, prostate and ovarian cancer are diagnosed each year and, together, the three diseases claim more than 25,000 lives annually

Almost 100,000 cases of breast, prostate and ovarian cancer are diagnosed each year and, together, the three diseases claim more than 25,000 lives annually. Above, prostate cancer cells

Almost 100,000 cases of breast,
prostate and ovarian cancer are diagnosed each year. At the moment,
mammograms are unable to distinguish between women with a potentially
fatal form of breast cancer and those who have the disease but are
unlikely ever to experience symptoms.

As a result, for every life saved by
screening, three women have gruelling, expensive and unnecessary
treatments. In contrast, the new test should be able to pick out the
women with the highest risk of the disease. They could then be
monitored, and even given drugs to stop the cancer from developing.

The first women could be screened in
this way 18 months from now, but it is likely to be three to four years
before the test is in widespread use.

Cambridge University cancer geneticist
Dr Paul Pharoah said: ‘The hope is that you spend less on the screening
programme, screen fewer women and save the same number of lives. By
screening fewer women you do less physical and psychological harm.’

A genetic test for prostate cancer
could also be available within five years. This should help find the one
man in 100 whose odds of the disease are five times higher than
average.

Almost half of men in this category
can expect to develop the disease at some point in their lifetime. Close
monitoring of high-risk men could save lives by catching tumours in
their early stages.

Professor Ros Eeles, from the
Institute of Cancer Research, said: ‘These results are the single
biggest leap forward in finding the genetic causes of prostate cancer
yet made. The work could have a big impact on the number of people dying
from the disease, which is still far too high.’

And Professor Alan Ashworth, the
institute’s chief executive, said: ‘Our new research really changes the
game for the use of genetics in prostate cancer, by identifying so many
new prostate cancer variants that screening for different levels of risk
now becomes a real possibility.

‘Today’s studies across prostate,
breast and ovarian cancer provide a vivid illustration of just how
powerful genetic research can be in uncovering causes of cancer and
opening up new avenues for prevention and treatment.’

The results have been published in 13 scientific papers in five journals, including Nature Genetics.