Posted on Friday 29 April 2016
Dr Anju Kulkarni and Kenisha McGregor
A pioneering new app will allow healthcare professionals to identify people at risk of inherited cancer and refer them for potentially lifesaving specialist treatment.
Cancer Genetics, developed by the Clinical Genetics team at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust with technology company UBQO, uses personal, family and medical history to assess a person’s risk of inherited cancer.
Inherited cancers are caused by gene mutations, which increase the risk of developing particular types of cancer. Some gene mutations can increase the risk of more than one type of cancer.
Healthcare professionals will use the app to assess a person’s risk and if necessary, refer them directly to specialist cancer genetics services. This means quicker access to genetic counselling and testing, cancer surveillance, and preventative surgery. If the app finds a person is not at risk, they and their family can be instantly reassured.
Dr Adam Shaw, Clinical Lead for Cancer Genetics at Guy’s and St Thomas’, says: “Hereditary cancer is not common, which makes it difficult for healthcare professionals to know when to suspect it. This app will help them to reassure people if they are not at risk of inherited cancer, saving individuals and families from unnecessary stress and anxiety, while ensuring that those patients who need specialist input receive it without delay.”
The specialist cancer genetics service at Guy’s and St Thomas’ covers a population of approximately five million people and receives more than 1,800 patient referrals a year. In 2013, referrals to the clinical genetics service at Guy’s and St Thomas’ doubled after actress Angelina Jolie announced that she carried the inherited BRCA1 gene mutation and had undergone a preventative double mastectomy.
Dr Anju Kulkarni, Consultant Clinical Geneticist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ who has led the development of the new app, says: “There has been increasing public awareness of the importance of genetic risk in cancer since several high-profile celebrities have shared their stories.
“Cancer Genetics equips healthcare professionals with an evidence-based tool to meet this growing awareness and identify patients at risk of inherited cancer.”
Kenisha McGregor, 37, from Lewisham, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 and was found to carry the BRCA1 gene mutation when she was referred to Guy’s Hospital.
She says: “I’d been told that I could have an elevated risk of cancer due to my family history after my first scare, but I wasn’t given a definitive answer. I was left wondering until I found a second lump in my armpit and was diagnosed.
“The use of this app could save families from similar uncertainty and help them to receive specialist genetic testing if necessary. I have a son and a daughter and, although it will be difficult for me to accept the results, I’d encourage them both to go for testing when they are older so that together we can be either reassured, or make informed decisions about prevention if they do carry the gene.
“If people suspect that cancer may be inherited through their family, I’d encourage them to speak to their GP. You don’t have to make any decisions but you can start to make supported and informed choices about the future.”
Life Sciences Minister George Freeman MP says: “This app highlights the ground-breaking role that new digital technology can play in supporting NHS patients and clinicians with better diagnosis and treatment. Not only will it help to inform people about the risks of inherited cancers but it can put the minds of many at ease, and allow the NHS to refer patients directly to specialist cancer genetics services.”
Cancer Genetics was funded through Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity’s Cancer Funds and was developed by UBQO Ltd. Alexander Kenney, Director of UBQO, says: “We are proud to have worked on a product that will go a long way to relieving stress for families across the UK.”
Health professionals are encouraged to download Cancer Genetics for free on the Apple App Store and Google Play. Visit www.ubqo.com/cancergenetics to find out more about the app.