Q & A: Breast Cancer and Genetic Testing in New Zealand
The dramatic decision by Angelina Jolie to have both breasts removed to reduce her chances of breast cancer has raised a lot of questions about gene testing and the procedure in New Zealand.
1. Who should consider being tested?
Women with two or more first or second-degree relatives (mother, sister, daughter, aunt, nephew, niece or grandparent) with breast or ovarian cancer plus:
2. I am worried I may have the gene. Who should I talk to?
- Additional relatives with breast or ovarian cancer
- A relative who has had both breast and ovarian cancer
- Bilateral breast cancer
- Breast cancer in a male relative
- A relative with a diagnosis of breast cancer before the age of 40 or ovarian cancer before the age of 50
- Jewish ancestry (there's an inherited genetic mutation that increases the risk of breast cancer in Jewish women of Eastern European descent)
- Member of family with confirmed BRCA abnormality
It is important to speak to your GP who will be able to advise you on next steps, including referrals to a geneticist if required.
3. How much does it cost?
Genetic testing for cancer risk is available free through the public health system in New Zealand. Most people wait three to four months to see a geneticist and those judged to need testing wait a further several months for results, depending on the type of test. There are currently no private testing facilities in New Zealand, however Australian company Genetic Technologies offers a range of tests including three of the most common cancers in Australasia: breast, bowel and melanoma. The costs range from about AU$730 for a bowel cancer test to AU$2500 for breast cancer.
4. How is the test carried out?
A blood sample is required for these tests, and genetic counseling is recommended before and after the tests. The blood sample is then sent to an Australian laboratory, and it may take 4- 6 months to get a result.
5. What exactly is genetic testing?
Genetic testing is a type of medical test that identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins. The results of a genetic test can confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition or help determine a person’s chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder, for example the BRCA abnormality which increases a person’s risk of breast or ovarian cancer.
6. What is BRCA 1 & 2?
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that belong to a class of genes known as tumour suppressors. Mutation of these genes has been linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, however, it is important to remember that only 5% of breast cancer is thought to be due to an inherited abnormality.
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