Gene-link cancer line set up for women

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The Independent Online
Women at risk of hereditary breast cancer will have a new helpline from this week.

The helpline, the result of campaigning work by Wendy Watson, one of the first women in the UK to have a preventative mastectomy, will run seven days a week and is being part funded by the Department of Health.

Geneticists now estimate that two per cent of breast cancers and three per cent of ovarian cancers are due to one of two genes that have been found, BRCA1 and BRCA2, both of which predispose women to those malignancies. New research showsBRCA1 is implicated in 80 per cent of families with histories of breast and ovarian cancers.

Among women under 30, it is thought to be implicated in 8 per cent of breast cancers and those who carry the mutation have a 50 per cent chance of passing it on to each of their children. Men can also inherit the gene and it may be implicated in a predisposition to prostate cancer.

Mrs Watson, founder of the new helpline, who had a preventative mastectomy in 1992, says women have to make their own choices. "We hope our helpline will be useful to women who go through the sort of decision making that we all went through," she said.

The choices for women who have the gene range from doing nothing to taking part in a drug therapy trial, having a regular mammography, and prophylactic surgery. Preventative mastectomy is more common in the US that Europe, but it is estimated that around 100 women a year in Britain have a preventative mastectomy.

Mrs Watson was a member of a family group with breast cancer that helped develop tests. Nine female members of her family have had breast cancer.

The new test for BRCA1,linked to both hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, will be on sale in the UK and is expected to result in a surge in demand. Current tests can take more than a year, but the new US test, likely to cost around pounds 1,500, is said to be far faster and more accurate.

nHereditary Breast Cancer Helpline: 01629 813000