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Simplified the Process

Nazneen Rahman has figured out a way to make genetic testing more easily accessible for UK women with ovarian cancer, writes Ed Yong at the Atlantic. Women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations are more likely to respond to certain chemotherapy drugs and PARP inhibitors, but getting tested can be difficult.

Because genetic testing was expensive when it was first introduced, Yong notes that in the UK, women with ovarian typically have to have a family history of cancer to be eligible and undergo screening by a genetics service. Though costs have dropped, he says that policy hasn't changed.

But Rahman and her team at Royal Marsden Hospital have changed how women seek BRCA testing there — they can sign up to be tested at their regular visit to the cancer clinic and give blood for the test then and there. If they want, Yong notes the women can request to speak with a genetic counselor, but Rahman tells him no one really does.

"The key thing was bringing simplicity to a system that was untenably complex, but should no longer be," she adds.

The revamped pipeline has increased the number of women at the hospital who've undergone testing, Yong writes, as only 8 percent of the first 207 patients would've been referred under the old structure. Sixteen percent of these 207 patients had pathogenic BRCA mutations.

Rahman adds that the approach saves the National Health Service money on genetic consultations and may help prevent some cancers as family members of the women tested now might seek surgery to have their ovaries removed after having children.

"It's about making sure that the things we've done are genuinely going to help people," Rahman tells Yong.