England’s Chief Medical Officer calls for DNA testing to become part of routine cancer care

Prof Dame Sally Davies says genomic services should become available to more patients suffering from cancer and rare diseases
By Leontina Postelnicu
10:12 AM
DNA illustration.

[London, UK] England’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) has said that cancer patients should be offered routine DNA tests to improve prevention, protection and outcome rates in an effort to ‘welcome the genomic era and deliver the genomic dream’.

In an annual report published today, Prof Dame Sally Davies suggested that the opportunities genomic medicine could offer point to the need to create a future-proof ‘first-class genomic service’.

The CMO added: “Genomics is not tomorrow. It’s here today. I believe genomic services should be available to more patients, whilst being a cost-effective service in the NHS.

“Through the establishment
 of Genomics England and the 100,000 Genomes Project, we are ahead of the game in transforming our NHS by integrating genomics into the health service in a way other countries dream of.”

Back in 2012, then Prime Minister David Cameron announced that an initiative to sequence 100,000 whole genomes would be launched, leading to the development of Genomics England, which formed a partnership with technology company Illumina.

Now, they have sequenced more than 31,000 genomes, mostly from patients suffering from cancer and rare diseases.

Research cited by Prof Davies shows that in the UK rare diseases affect around 7% of the population, amounting to approximately three million people, with a large majority due to genetic causes.

Importance of data protection

The CMO also addressed the importance of data protection, adding that patient details should be securely stored at all times:

“People are right to expect this of the NHS as for any other organisation which stores sensitive information. However, this must not prevent data from being used responsibly, as doing so can bring such huge benefits to patients.

“Key to advancing genomic medicine will be helping patients to understand that by agreeing to use of data about their illness, they bring direct benefits to themselves.”

Amongst several other recommendations, Prof Davies urged the Department of Health to set up a new National Genomics Board that would be chaired by a minister to ‘facilitate collaboration and ensure effective delivery of appropriate actions’.

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