Despite relying on charity, breakthroughs in cancer research are contributing significantly to improvements in sufferers’ life expectancy in two important ways – better treatment and earlier detection though greater awareness and improved screening.
As the NHS needs to use its financial resources in the most effective way possible, screening people who are most at risk makes sense. As a result, genetic tests are becoming more important.
This is why the recent news of a breakthrough in genetic research was hailed as the most significant advance in the fight against breast cancer for a decade.
Four new genes have been identified that increase the chances of women developing breast cancer. For two of the genes, FGFR2 and TNRC9, there is a 20% increase in the risk of breast cancer if one gene malfunctions and between 40% and 60% if both do so.
To put this in context, one in 11 women will develop breast cancer in their lives, compared with one in six women with both these genes. If a mass screening test can be developed to identify them, this will help us focus our attention on those who are most at risk.
Sadly, mention the word genetics and many consumers think of mad scientists, Frankenstein food and mice with human ears growing on their backs. And some commentators have add-ed to these fears when it comes to genetic screening’s implications for insurance.
Indeed, when the BBC announced news of the recent genetic breakthrough in the fight against breast cancer, it included a misleading report that women testing positive may not be able to get insurance.
So it’s worth reminding ourselves about the true picture. To date, the government’s Genetics and Insurance Committee has only approved one test, Huntington’s Disease for life cover. But the Concordat and Moratorium worked out by the industry and Whitehall mean consumers don’t have to disclose the results of any genetic test unless they are taking out over £500,000 of life cover, £300,000 of critical illness cover or £30,000 a year of income protection.
So consumers who test positive for genetic conditions can still take out generous cover to protect themselves.
Meanwhile, the fight against cancer goes on. It was re-cently reported that the US aims to prevent all cancerrelated deaths by 2015. Let’s hope it hits this target.