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WCH’s The Screen Project brings accessible BRCA genetic testing to Canadians

April 3, 2017

By Sarah Warr

Approximately one in 200 Canadians have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation which are strongly associated with breast, ovarian and prostate cancers. 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.

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. 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.

"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."

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.”    

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.

 The Screen Project

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