Genetic Testing Can Help Inform Cancer Patients About Treatment Risk

Cancer patients stand to benefit from a genetic test that can reduce the toxic side effects and risk of death that is associated with courses of chemotherapy.

At least 50,000 patients every year are prescribed the chemotherapy drug 5FU (fluorouracil, also known as capecitabine chemotherapy), which is given to those suffering with the most pernicious forms of cancer —including bowel, breast, stomach, head and neck, pancreatic and anal cancer. Most of us will know someone affected.

However, 1 in 100 adults and 5 in 100 elderly patients who take 5FU are putting their lives in jeopardy, simply because of a genetic deficiency which means they don’t produce the enzyme DPYD (dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase) to process the chemotherapy drug during treatment.

Hundreds of lives could be saved by offering comprehensive pre-chemotherapy testing for DPYD — and the 5FU Test Alliance, launched today by people damaged by the lack of use of comprehensive pre-chemotherapy DPYD genetic testing in the UK, believes this should be freely available on the NHS.

If the NHS was to follow suit, the cost of testing would be less than £200 per patient. The toxicities prevented would save the NHS money even after the cost of the tests and reassure doctors, pharmacists and nurses they are not putting the lives of their patients at risk.