Genetic tests for all – the new approach to preventive medicine

Genetic tests that can detect a raised risk of breast, ovarian and prostate cancer are being offered for the first time to people without family histories of the diseases, The Times has learnt.

The programme, run by University College London (UCL), paves the way for a new approach to preventive medicine involving widespread screening. It will also prompt greater demand for screening of embryos by parents who carry a defective gene and want to avoid passing it to their children.

News of the programme came as Paul Serhal, medical director at University College Hospital’s Assisted Conception Unit, announced the birth of one of the world’s first babies selected to be free of a genetic risk of breast cancer. The girl was born after embryos were screened to exclude the faulty BRCA1 gene. All the father’s female relatives had developed breast cancer caused by BRCA1. The gene gives a woman an 80 per cent chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime and raises the risk of ovarian and prostate cancer.

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