Mouthwash breast cancer test "could cause unnecessary anxiety"

In collaboration with the Press Association

A DNA-based breast cancer risk test that reports to incorporate both personal history and genetic information to determine a woman's breast cancer risk has been launched in the UK and Ireland. Called OncoVue, the test involves answering a medical history questionnaire and then using a mouthwash to gather a DNA sample which is then sent to a lab for DNA analysis.

Currently, women who have an very strong family history of breast cancer can have tests to see if they carry high-risk mutations in one of several genes linked to the disease.

But only a minority of cases of the disease are inherited in this way, and most breast cancers are thought to occur because of damage to a woman's genes that accumulates over her life-time.

InterGenetics, the makers of the new test, say it is able to determine a women's chances of this 'sporadic' (non-inherited) breast cancer.

They suggest that this could help women and their doctors proactively design early detection and intervention plans that could reduce chances of developing breast cancer. However, while the research on DNA testing for cancers was welcomed, Cancer Research UK warned that the current test may create a false sense of security. Dr Julie Sharp, senior scientific officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "Scientists are making great progress in unravelling the genetic faults that influence breast cancer risk, but there are still gaps in this knowledge and this type of DNA testing can't yet supply all the answers.

"There is a danger that this type of test could cause unnecessary anxiety for some women. Equally, it could give others a false sense of security - 'low risk' does not mean 'no risk'." Dr Sharp explained that the causes of breast cancer are complex and are not yet understood fully enough to predict which women may develop the disease, apart from in a small number of very high-risk families.

"Cancer Research UK's advice to women remains unchanged - be breast aware, report any changes to your doctor promptly, and attend screening appointments when invited, as early detection is important for successful treatment," Dr Sharp said.

Find out more about breast cancer genes on CancerHelp UK