A charity has called for the government to allow doctors to inform patients if they have inherited gene mutations which give them a high risk of developing breast cancer.
Confidentiality laws currently prevent women being told by doctors about the gene mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2; instead, they must rely on family members to inform them of their increased risk. But women who are estranged from family members may be none the wiser to the threat they could face.
Research by Professor Gareth Evans of the Genesis Appeal, the UK's only charity dedicated to the prevention of breast cancer, has called for doctors to be allowed to directly inform those people at high risk to help prevent women developing breast cancer.
One in 500 people carry the gene mutation, which increases the risk of developing breast cancer by up to 85%.
Professor Evans offered genetic tests to 100 individuals in two generations of five large families at the Genesis Prevention Centre in Manchester. He found that between 50% and 60% of women who are aware that they carry, or could carry, these genes opt for preventative surgery.
When medics directly informed the family members concerned that they were in the high-risk group, many more individuals requested a genetic test, allowing them to consider preventive measures.
"Patient information is paramount to concordance; however, it can have a downside, particularly in inherited genetic cases. Patient information should be given if requested in these cases and only where options in potential treatments are a surety." - V Henry