Cambridge breast cancer surgeon Prof Gordon Wishart launches new genetic testing company

An article "Cambridge breast cancer surgeon Prof Gordon Wishart launches new genetic testing company", based on interview with Professor Gordon Wishart, was published By Cambridge News today. 

 Professor Gordon Wishart, co-founder of Check4Cancer, launched GeneHealth UK based in Copley Hill Business Park, to help manage the increasing number of women and men who require access to genetic testing.

Working with leading genetic counsellor and government advisor, Vicki Kiesel, the company has now established a network of 14 genetic counsellors who provide essential advice and counselling before and after genetic testing in the private sector in England.

Genetic testing for cancer was thrown into the spotlight in 2013 after Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie had a preventative bilateral mastectomy.

The actress - whose mother, grandmother and aunt all died of cancer - was told as she had inherited a mutation in the BRCA gene she had an 87 per cent risk of developing breast cancer and a 50 per cent risk of developing ovarian cancer. She had a double mastectomy with reconstruction in 2013, followed by removal of both ovaries in 2015 to reduce her risk of developing either cancer.

Prof Wishart, who is also Professor of Cancer Surgery at Anglia Ruskin University, said thanks to cases like Jolie's there was increasing awareness now about genetic testing for cancer.

"The debate in the media about whether preventative breast surgery was reasonable and appropriate or, whether it was an overreaction to the underlying facts, contributed to a massive increase in NHS referrals for women with a family history of breast cancer," he said. "A surge that became know as the "Angelina Jolie effect".

"In the Summer of 2013, the National Institute for Health & Care Excellence (NICE) also produced guidelines for the management of women at risk of developing breast cancer as a result of their family history and for the management of women diagnosed with a breast cancer and with a strong family history.

"These guidelines reduced the threshold for genetic testing from a 20 per cent risk of having a BRCA mutation to a 10 per cent risk and, combined with the "Jolie effect", massively increased the number of referrals to NHS genetics clinic for counselling and possible genetic testing.

"As a result, genetics clinics have been inundated with referrals and waiting times for appointments and genetic testing have risen considerably in many parts of England."

People can get BRCA test results in two to four weeks because of the company's access to state of the art laboratory technology.

And with options for counselling by telephone, Skype or face to face, many women have already found access to genetic testing to be more straightforward than previously with less impact on their family or work.

"It's now possible to get access to really high-quality genetic testing in private laboratories or commercially through NHS laboratories at affordable prices with much quicker turnaround times than are available on the NHS," said Prof Wishart.

"That's really important in breast cancer. In the past if someone had got breast cancer we should concentrate on treating it and when that's finished we can concentrate on genetic testing.

"But now you can get BRCA results within two to four weeks, it can influence the type of surgery you have. Waiting times on the NHS just make it impossible but it's something we can do in the private sector. We are just seeing a real growth in these services."

Breast cancer genetic testing is usually carried out on people with a very strong history but do not actually have it or people who have just been diagnosed.

Prof Wishart said it can really influence the type of treatment patients have.

"Most people with breast cancer have it in one breast but if you have a BRCA mutation and do not have surgery to both breasts and just treat one, those patients have a reduced survival rate," he said.

"The rising trend in referrals is expected to continue, with an increasing number of cancer specialists now referring their patients to GeneHealth UK for genetic testing, and continues to put Cambridge at the forefront of many of the recent cancer developments in the UK."

He added: "It's possible at some point genetic testing may almost become routine for cancer types like breast cancer that are diagnosed. I think we are just at the start of more and more people having genetic testing. Not just for cancer risks or to determine which way cancer should be treated but for a while range of other diseases."

Read more in Cambridge News.