We are all made up of genes; they determine things like our height, our eye and hair colour and our risk of developing some diseases like certain types of cancer.
In Canada, approximately one in every 200 Canadians have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation which puts them at a higher lifetime risk of developing some cancers like breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. Currently, genetic testing for these gene mutations is only 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) have started a study called The Screen Project, which offers genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations to Canadians at a cost of US$165–financial assistance is also available. U.S.-based Veritas Genetics, the global leader in genetic sequencing and interpretation, will perform the BRCA genetic testing. The study hopes to estimate the number of cancers that would be prevented by providing increased access to genetic testing.
People who are interested in BRCA genetic testing can participate in the study by registering online at www.thescreenproject.ca. 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. Saliva samples will then be tested at Veritas’ laboratory and the results will be sent back to the participant within two to four weeks. People 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 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. Mohammad Akbari, a scientist at 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.”