World’s first cancer risk screening in Australia

Countless young Australian lives could be saved by the world’s first DNA screening study that can detect increased risk of some cancers and heart disease.

Monash University in Melbourne is leading a nationwide screening program of at least 10,000 people between the ages of 18 and 40 for genes that increase the risk of certain types of cancer and heart disease.

With the support of researchers and clinicians nationwide, the DNA Screen identifies people with variants in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that lead to an increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer in women.

These genes are also associated with breast and prostate cancer in men, but to a lesser extent.

Men and women with DNA variants in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can also pass them on to their children.

The test is free, and the saliva sample is placed in a small tube you receive in the mail and returned in a postage-paid envelope.

Researchers who recruit young people through social media say screening could ultimately save countless lives.

“We hope to identify about 1 in 75 people at high risk for these diseases,” said Jane Tiller, co-leader of the national project at Monash University.

“People found to be at high risk do not necessarily get sick, but identifying risks before symptoms appear can allow prevention through regular testing, medication, or risk-reducing surgery. It might save their lives.”

Paul Lacquez, associate professor of public health and preventive medicine at Monash University, said the test could help young people make more informed decisions about their health.

“We want to identify people who are at risk while they are young and healthy, rather than after the fact,” he said.

“Early detection and prevention of cancer and heart disease can save some lives. This also saves Australia’s health system significant costs through prevention.”

Enabled by a $2.97 million grant from the federal Health Research Futures Fund, DNA screening is available to everyone aged 18 to 40 in Australia.



Australian Associated Press is an Australian news agency.