Irish women face 18-month wait to undergo vital cancer gene test

Chronic funding failures mean Irish women at risk of the same breast cancer as Hollywood star Angelina Jolie must wait 18 months to see if they have the same life-threatening gene.

The Irish Cancer Society said health service budget issues mean the lengthy wait is unavoidable — despite the need for patients to know what they are facing as soon as possible.

Speaking after Ms Jolie revealed she had a double mastectomy having been diagnosed with a key genetic marker for family history-linked breast cancer, the society said 200-300 Irish women are struck by the same news every year.

However, despite a positive diagnosis for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene markers meaning the woman has an up to 85% risk of developing cancer, Irish patients have to wait 18 months before they find out.

“The test results can be known within about six weeks, but there’s a shortage of funds so the waiting list is about 18 months. There’s a huge problem for getting the test,” said the society’s cancer information manager, Naomi Fitzgibbon.

The gene markers are directly linked to between 5% and 10% of all breast cancer diagnoses worldwide.

The “faulty” genes, which are a key sign of a serious family history of breast cancer, can lie dormant for a number of years.

However, they increase the chances of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer, making an early diagnosis essential in future care.

Under the current system, healthy women who believe they may be carrying the “faulty” genes are asked to contact their GP, who after examining their family history may refer them to one of Ireland’s eight cancer centres of excellence.

After further checks to find out whether there is an unusually high rate of breast cancer in the patient’s family — generally described as two or more “first degree” relatives who have developed the condition — the woman involved may be sent for genetic tests.

This free blood test is carried out at the Crumlin Hospital- based National Centre for Medical Genetics.

Ms Fitzgibbon said Ms Jolie’s decision to go public with her personal situation is “very brave” and will help countless women currently going through “the fear of a diagnosis”.

*Irish Cancer Society helpline: 1800 200700.

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