Women's College Hospital brings accessible BRCA genetic testing to Canadians

Women's College Hospital research study, The Screen Project, provides access to affordable population-based genetic testing

TORONTO, March 28, 2017 /CNW/ - Approximately one in 200 Canadians have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation which puts women at a higher lifetime risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, while male mutation carriers are at an increased risk of developing prostate and other cancers. Currently, genetic testing for these gene mutations is only offered to, and covered for, people who meet eligibility criteria based on several factors like a strong family history of cancer. Researchers in the Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit at Women's College Hospital (WCH) will lead a population-based study called The Screen Project that will offer genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations to Canadians at a cost of $165 USD. U.S.-based Veritas Genetics, the global leader in genetic sequencing and interpretation, will be performing the BRCA genetic testing. The study hopes to determine the feasibility of guided direct-to-consumer population-based genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations and also to estimate the number of cancers that would be prevented through such a program.

Hereditary mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are responsible for five to 10 per cent of breast cancers and 10 to 15 per cent of ovarian cancers. Although knowledge about hereditary cancers has improved, referral rates for genetic testing remain low among primary care physicians. A recent study found that only 23 per cent of eligible ovarian cancer patients were referred for genetic assessment. Research on the underutilization of genetics in clinical care shows that the majority of BRCA mutation-carriers in the population will go undetected.

"The technology for identifying BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation-carriers has improved dramatically since their discovery in the mid 1990s. However, we have not yet achieved our potential in preventing breast and ovarian cancers among women using genetic testing," says Dr. Steven Narod, co-principal investigator and the director of the Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit at WCH. "Population-based genetic testing is a new approach for widespread testing in Canada that we hope will change that paradigm."

Narod is a co-discoverer of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and the recipient of the 2016 Basser Global Prize for his work on breast and ovarian cancer genetics.

"The Screen Project aims to address the health gaps in eligibility criteria that currently exist by offering this genetic test to any interested Canadian at a more accessible price," says Dr. Mohammad Akbari, co-principal investigator and director of the Research Molecular Genetics Laboratory at WCH. He led the international team discovered RECQL as the latest breast cancer susceptibility gene in 2015.

Individuals who are interested in BRCA genetic testing can participate in the study by registering online at www.thescreenproject.ca. On the registration site, patients will have access to an informational video and educational materials to learn more about hereditary cancer and genetic testing. Once participants have provided the necessary information and consent, they will be directed to Veritas' website to submit payment and have a saliva collection kit shipped to their home. Those who are unable to afford the cost of the test will be eligible for financial assistance. Saliva samples will then be tested at Veritas' laboratory and the results will be reported to the patient within two to four weeks. Individuals who test positive for the BRCA mutation will be contacted by the Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit at WCH, while those who receive a negative or inconclusive result will receive a report from Veritas Genetics.

"The current barriers to accessing genetic testing in the healthcare system can prevent or delay people from obtaining knowledge that can significantly reduce their cancer risk," says Nicole Gojska, genetic counsellor at Women's College Hospital. "Several options are available to detect cancers early or reduce the risk of cancer from happening. For example, for women, these options can include intensified screening, taking medications to reduce cancer risks or preventative surgery. As genetic testing for cancer predisposition is becoming increasingly more common in clinical practice, men and women with BRCA mutations may also benefit from tailored cancer treatments."    

Direct-to-consumer genetic testing needs to be guided by a medical professional with long-term follow-up and management. All participants who are identified as BRCA mutation-carriers through this study will be offered a follow-up consultation with a WCH genetic counsellor to review their test and discuss the implications of their diagnosis. By providing genetic testing that is equitable and accessible to all Canadians, WCH hopes to demonstrate a new model of care for breast, ovarian and prostate cancer prevention that will close the gaps that exist within the healthcare system.

About Women's College Hospital For more than 100 years Women's College Hospital (WCH) has been developing revolutionary advances in healthcare. Today, WCH is a world leader in the health of women and Canada's leading, academic ambulatory hospital. A champion of equitable access, WCH advocates for the health of all women from diverse cultures and backgrounds and ensures their needs are reflected in the care they receive. It focuses on delivering innovative solutions that address Canada's most pressing issues related to population health, patient experience and system costs. The WCH Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care (WIHV) is developing new, scalable models of care that deliver improved outcomes for patients and sustainable solutions for the health system as a whole.

Women's College Research Institute (WCRI) is tackling some of the greatest health challenges of our time. Its scientists are conducting global research that advances the health of women and improves healthcare options for all, and are then translating those discoveries to provide much-needed improvements in healthcare worldwide.

For more information about how WCH and WCRI are transforming patient care, visit www.womenscollegehospital.ca and www.womensresearch.ca

About Veritas Genetics Veritas Genetics is a global leader in providing in genetic testing, interpretation, and storage services to individuals, physicians, and medical researchers. By removing barriers to genetic screening and whole genome sequencing, Veritas Genetics empowers individuals and doctors to make informed lifestyle decisions that help people live longer, healthier lives. The company was recognized by MIT Technology Review as one of the top "50 Smartest Companies" in 2016. Veritas was founded by leaders in genomics from Harvard Medical School and operates globally from its offices in the U.S., Europe and China. Learn more at www.veritasgenetics.com.

SOURCE Women's College Hospital

For further information: Emily Hanft, Women's College Hospital, Emily.hanft@wchospital.ca / (416) 323 - 6400 ext. 4054

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