Embargoed until 00:01 Wednesday 23rd June 2004.
GeneWatch UK welcomed the publication today of a new National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guideline for women at risk of familial breast cancer (1). The guideline recognises that genetic testing is only appropriate for a small proportion of women who are from high-risk families. Under the guideline, the great majority of women will be reassured that having a relative with breast cancer does not substantially increase their risk.
Dr Helen Wallace, Deputy Director of GeneWatch UK said, "This responsible advice contrasts sharply with the situation in the USA. There, a commercial company has been advertising breast cancer genetic tests on national TV and wrongly telling every woman that the test will help her".
The advertisements, from the US company Myriad, have been widely criticised in the States (2). The implications of the genetic test are not well-understood for women outside high-risk families. The option of surgery to remove both breasts before cancer is detected is also only appropriate for a tiny minority of women.
The Myriad ads are unlikely to be shown in Britain, because the companys patent applications were rejected recently by the European Patent Office. However, GeneWatch warned that other genetic tests could be advertised in future and there are no rules preventing direct selling of genetic tests to the public.
"There are still no controls in the UK to prevent companies from advertising genetic tests or from selling them directly to the public without medical support," said Dr Wallace, "There is a real danger that in future some people will be misled about their health".
For further information:
Dr Helen Wallace (GeneWatch UK) on 01298 871898 or mobile: 07903 311584.
Notes for editors:
- The new NICE guideline is available on www.nice.org.uk/CG014 .
- See, for example: "Selling Genetic Tests: Shades of Gray in Your DNA", ABC News, 23rd September 2003. Available on: http://abcnews.go.com/sections/living/DailyNews/ONCALL_DTC_brca_tests020923.html