SUBANG JAYA – A Malaysian cancer research organisation has come up with a genetic test to assess a person’s risk of developing breast cancer and, to a lesser extent, ovarian cancer.
Since its introduction by Cancer Research Malaysia last October, about 1,000 women have taken the test.
Its Chief Executive Officer Prof Dr Teo Soo-Hwang said genetic testing would “certainly be able to improve breast cancer survival rates among Malaysian women”.
“Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in Malaysia, accounting for approximately one in five cancer cases overall and one in three cancer cases among women,” she told Bernama, recently.
According to Teo, an average of 5,000 women, aged between 30 and 60, were diagnosed for breast cancer in Malaysia every year.
Cancer Research Malaysia is a non-profit organisation, funded by Sime Darby Foundation, that was set up in 2001 to conduct research and develop tools to fight cancer on all fronts.
Besides focusing on genetic and environmental risk factors in Asians, its 40-strong team of researchers also focuses on finding ways to reduce the burden of common cancers such as breast cancer and researching on cancers which occur more commonly among Asians and are understudied, such as oral and nasopharyngeal cancer.
Teo said Cancer Research Malaysia was among the first in Malaysia to develop genetic counselling and genetic testing programmes to assist people with higher risk of being diagnosed with breast and ovarian cancer.
It costs between RM500 and RM1,000 to take the genetic test.
Teo said the breast cancer genetic studies carried out by Cancer Research Malaysia were among the largest carried out in Asia.
“We were able to discover more than 100 new genetic loci that helped us understand why some women are more likely to develop breast cancer.
“This laid the foundation for us to enable women to know their risk and be empowered to prevent cancer,” she explained.
Cancer Research Malaysia Genetic Counsellor Yoon Sook Yee, meanwhile, said what they had developed was a “more rapid and cheaper method” to accurately identify individuals genetically predisposed to breast, as well as, oral cancer.
“Our social enterprise set-up ensures that cost is not a barrier to procuring lifesaving information,” said Yoon. Besides her, there is only one other qualified genetic counsellor in Malaysia.
Yoon said those taking the genetic test would have their genetic profiles examined, following which they would be stratified into the appropriate risk groups.
“People categorised as high-risk will be subject to risk management; even those in the low-risk category will have to go through risk management meant for them,” she said, adding that the availability of genetic testing made it unnecessary for everyone to go for cancer screening.
“Once you’ve put people in the right categories (through genetic testing), you don’t have to screen everyone and, at the same time, you don’t miss out on those with high risk,” she pointed out.
Genetic tests can be carried out on any cell taken from the body and usually blood, saliva or hair samples are used for this purpose.
Yoon said when carrying out a genetic test to assess a woman’s breast cancer risk, researchers would analyse the role of breast cancer genes, such as Breast Cancer Genes 1 and 2 (BRCA1 and BRCA2).
“We can predict the risk accurately so that we can target prevention and screening to help reduce the burden of breast cancer in future generations of Malaysian women,” she added.