A small number of patients taking drugs called fluoropyrimidines suffer nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, breathlessness and severe skin reactions. In rare cases, reactions can be fatal. But now a new NHS blood test will detect a particular form of a gene which means that someone is less able to break down chemotherapy drugs in their body. As many as 40 percent of those who get tested are expected to benefit from starting on a lower dose, or having a different treatment.
The news comes after singer Linda Nolan, 61, revealed this month that her liver cancer has spread.
Professor Peter Johnson, NHS England national clinical director for cancer, said: “Cancer survival rates are at a record high but the condition still causes huge suffering for millions of patients and their loved ones.
“This test can help us to treat people with cancer as safely as possible, at what has been, and continues to be, an exceptionally difficult time.”
The test, which was only previously available at a small number of hospitals, will now be funded across the country by NHS England and NHS Improvement.
It is the latest in a series of ground-breaking innovations and genomic discoveries adopted by the NHS to deliver world-leading cancer care.
The number of people having their cancer care with the NHS is back to pre-COVID-19 levels, with nearly 350,000 having treatment since the first peak. Survival rates are at a record high but the long-term plan is to catch three quarters of cancers at an early stage, when they are easier to treat.
Professor Dame Sue Hill, the chief scientific officer for England and senior responsible officer for genomics in NHS England, said: “This announcement marks an important moment for how genomics can help tailor treatments to make them safer for patients with cancer.
“As our understanding of the role our DNA plays in disease grows, we will be able to use this approach to help develop personalised treatments for other conditions and embed genomics into routine care.”
John McGuire, 71, from London, who is having chemotherapy for colorectal cancer at Guy’s Hospital, was tested and found to have the form of the gene, so was put on a lower dose.
He said: “I’m delighted with the treatment I have received from the team at Guy’s Hospital.
“I have had little to no side-effects from my treatment.”
Dr Simon Vincent, director of research at Breast Cancer Now, said: “This is a welcome step towards ensuring everyone treated for cancer with chemotherapy gets the most appropriate and kindest treatment based on their genetic make-up.”