National study on ovarian cancer hopes to increase awareness of genetic testing

08 May 2017 / 12:28 H.

    SUBANG: A national study is being conducted to help ovarian cancer patients have access to genetic counselling and testing.
    This would not just help reduce risks among patients but also empower women to make informed decisions for the future for themselves and their families.
    With no effective screening for ovarian cancer, the fourth most common cancer among Malaysian women, the national study by Cancer Research Malaysia (CRM) is aimed to create greater awareness of genetic testing among patients.
    Noting however that there are not many certified genetic counsellors in the country, CRM certified genetic counsellor Yoon Sook Yee said the national study aims to train clinicians nationwide to make it mainstream, to see the prevalence of breast cancer gene (BRCA) mutation among ovarian cancer patients and to study the psycho-social aspect of patients and their families.
    Thus, CRM urges all ovarian cancer patients to have genetic counselling and testing as knowing their BRCA status gives them the opportunity to get personalised treatment.
    The national study - Mainstreaming genetic counselling (Magic) for genetic testing of BRCA1 and BRCA2 in Malaysian Ovarian Cancer Patients, which has been going on for about six months - now targets to get 800 patients to do the test by the end of two years.
    A local study in 2016 revealed that one in nine ovarian cancer patients inherited the BRCA gene mutation and four in 10 BRCA carriers do not have any family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
    "In Malaysia, access to genetic testing and counselling have only been available in Klang Valley and it is difficult for this test to be done anywhere outside.
    "The aim of the Magic study is trying to incorporating genetic testing in normal clinical pathway," Yoon said at a media roundtable on ovarian cancer in Malaysia yesterday.
    She said traditionally many clinicians would not be involved in any form of clinical testing but due to the utility and that it would be beneficial for patients, there are now 63 trained clinicians at 29 sites nationwide conducting the test.
    Yoon said from a blood sample, "we extract DNA to see if there are any changes in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes as well as other genes associated with breast and/or ovarian cancers".
    "In the psycho-social studies, we look at different psychological and social measures through questionnaire and interview to see how patients are affected after taking the genetic test.
    "We want to know whether they worry about it a lot or whether they worry about their relatives or whether there are issues occuring within the families or whether there are other issues," Yoon explained.
    She said due to the hereditary genetic change, patients' decision will have an implication on the other family members, who may also be carrying a similar genetic change.
    "In our social setting, having anything hereditary is not seen in a good light and there is stigma associated with it. We want to have a measure to see how deep the stigma is," she added.

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