A new test which could spare thousands of women with breast cancer from having needless chemotherapy will be available from the NHS this April.
It was recommended by the health watchdog NICE (National Institute for Health & Care Excellence) 18 months ago but the cost of £2,000-£2,500 per patient deterred most NHS hospitals from trying it.
From April, hospitals in England can join a scheme that has cut the price of the Oncotype DX test which will help medical staff advise patients on whether they should consider further treatment.
Only 10%-20% of early-stage breast cancer patients are believed to benefit from receiving chemotherapy.
Gillian Walton, Director of Programmes in the Department of Public Health and Wellbeing at Northumbria University, Newcastle, is a registered general Nurse and has worked in oncology and palliative care for sixteen years.
Gillian won the Nursing Times Cancer Nursing Award while practising and lecturing between 2002 and 2005 before she was appointed as a Senior Lecturer at the university and took on the role of Pathway Leader for the BSc in Cancer Care.
Here, she discusses why a test like this makes a difference:
Gill said: “The Oncotype DX test has been available in the UK since 2007 but has only recently been NICE approved. The test itself examines genes taken from a sample of a tumour removed during surgery.
“Gene testing is now part of routine investigation for some cancers to ensure that patients are given optimum treatment options.
“Chemotherapy is often misunderstood by the public because procedures and possible outcomes following treatment have changed in the last decade and they continue to as more options become available. Supportive therapies for treatment are now so much better and side effects can be managed appropriately.
“The price of the Oncotype DX test will eventually reduce as it becomes more available on the NHS, as most treatments do, and the effectiveness of the new treatment will be measured against patient outcomes and follow-up research.
“It’s got to be a good thing to have a test to predict the appropriateness of any treatment, creating a more targeted approach which is the way genetics is going.”