The test that can check if chemo will work for you


The test that can check if chemo will work for you: NHS will roll out a blood test which predicts the patient’s ability to break down chemotherapy drugs

  • NHS announced plans for a blood test to decide if patients need chemotherapy
  • Test searches for a particular gene to determine if chemotherapy is suitable 
  • The new test will apply for specific cancers including that of the breast and lung 

Cancer patients will be offered a rapid test to help decide whether chemotherapy is a suitable treatment for them.

The NHS has announced plans to roll out a blood test which detects a particular gene.

If a patient has low levels of this gene, it suggests they will be less able to break down chemotherapy drugs in their body and another treatment is needed.

The test will apply to treatment for particular kinds of cancer, including breast and lung.

Cancer patients will be offered a rapid test to help decide whether chemotherapy is a suitable treatment for them (stock image)

While most patients having chemotherapy do not suffer severe side effects, a small number who take certain drugs called fluoropyrimidines can suffer from nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or breathlessness. Some people can have severe skin reactions and, in rare cases, the reaction between the drugs can be fatal.

The blood test, which was previously available in only a small number of hospitals, will help doctors decide whether someone should opt for a lower chemotherapy dose or switch to a different method of tackling tumours.

As many as 40 per cent of those who get tested are expected to benefit from the new scheme, the NHS said.

Professor Dame Sue Hill, chief scientific officer for England and senior responsible officer for genomics in NHS England, said: ‘This announcement marks an important moment for how genomics can help tailor treatments to make them safer for patients.

‘As our understanding of the role our DNA plays in disease grows, we will be able to use this approach to help develop personalised treatments for other conditions and embed genomics into routine care.’

Some 38,000 people start chemotherapy treatment with fluoropyrimidines, including patients with breast, lung and colorectal cancer. And every year between 10 and 40 per cent of these patients may have severe reactions to their treatment, with 1 per cent of reactions proving fatal.

Some 38,000 people start chemotherapy treatment with fluoropyrimidines, including patients with breast, lung and colorectal cancer (stock image)

Some 38,000 people start chemotherapy treatment with fluoropyrimidines, including patients with breast, lung and colorectal cancer (stock image)

The genetic test will look for changes in a specific gene called DPYD. And low levels of the gene could mean they are likely to have a lower level of the enzyme needed to break down chemotherapy drugs in the body.

The test will be available across the country and will be funded by NHS England and NHS Improvement. 

Professor Peter Johnson, NHS England’s national clinical director for cancer, said: ‘Cancer survival rates are at a record high but the condition still causes huge suffering for millions of patients and their loved ones every year.

‘This test can help us to treat people with cancer as safely as possible, at what has been and continues to be an exceptionally difficult time for millions of us.

‘The number of people having their cancer care with the NHS is back to levels we saw before Covid-19, with nearly 350,000 having treatment since the first peak.

‘And as the NHS continues to prioritise essential cancer care, this latest innovation is another important tool to ensure people in England get the best possible treatment.’

The test marks the latest in a series of innovations and genomic discoveries adopted by the NHS to deliver personalised cancer care.

The ten-year NHS Long Term Plan aims to catch three-quarters of tumours at an early stage when they are easier to treat. The NHS said it has prioritised cancer treatment during the pandemic, as well as securing £160million for drugs which have less impact on immune systems.

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