Bowel cancer test can predict its return

Some bowel cancer patients will be spared the ravaging effects of chemotherapy thanks to a breakthrough genetic test that can predict whether their cancer is likely to return.

The Mercy University Hospital in Cork is the first hospital in Europe to involve patients in a study using the test which will help doctors decide whether to include chemotherapy as part of their treatment.

“No one wants chemo and no doctor wants to prescribe it unless the benefits outweigh the risks,” said Dr Derek Power, consultant oncologist at the Mercy and lead researcher in the study.

While each test costs up to €3,000, substantial savings are made if the result indicates the cancer is unlikely to recur.

“The test is expensive but six months of chemotherapy costs the taxpayers 10 times more. So not only is it a great opportunity for patients, but it is more cost-effective in the long term,” Dr Power said.

The test, Oncotype Dx, is carried out after the patient’s tumour is removed and a sample from the tumour is sent by courier to the company that developed the test, Genomic Health Inc, in the US.

The result is emailed back within five to seven working days, with a report showing a recurrence score of between 0 and 100, calculated by analysing gene activity.

If the recurrence score is low, it means the chance of the cancer returning is low, making the need for chemotherapy unlikely.

“So instead of chemo and all the side-effects that go with it, all the patient may require is regular colonoscopies, CT scans, and blood tests,” Dr Power said.

The Mercy started using the test in September and it is also being used in Cork University Hospital, Kerry General, and the South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital.

Dr Power said they have reached an agreement with the company to pay a set price per month to carry out unlimited tests.

He said it was particularly welcome that the study was being conducted in Cork which has the highest incidence rate of bowel cancer in the country.

Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in Ireland.

The test, approved and licenced in the US, is suitable for certain patients whose cancers are picked up at early stage 2 or 3.

Dr Power said they need to fundraise for the 18-month study. The Mercy Hospital Foundation is calling on companies, schools, and individuals to participate in Genes Day tomorrow “by planning a casual work day in jeans, a blue bake sale, a double denim fashion show, or a ‘jeanius’ quiz”.

To host your own Genes Day event, register at or call 021 4274076. Text Genes to 50300 to donate €4 to the foundation.


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