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News > Australia

Australia Launches Preventative DNA Screening for Cancer

  • A view of a DNA screening laboratory.

    A view of a DNA screening laboratory. | Photo: Twitter/ @theMJA

Published 22 August 2022

Scientists will screen at least 10,000 individuals aged 18-40 for genes that increase the risk of certain types of cancers, heart disease, and Lynch Syndrome.

A nationally collaborative project, led by Australia's Monash University, has allowed young people to know if they face an increased risk of some cancers or heart disease through free DNA saliva tests. The project announced is the world-first DNA screening study for such risks.


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It will screen at least 10,000 individuals aged 18-40 for genes that increase the risk of certain types of cancers and heart disease, including DNA variants in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, and risk conditions of Lynch Syndrome. Participants need to sign up on the website and place a saliva sample into the small tube received by mail and send it back for the screen test.

"Providing genetic testing based on family history alone is not enough. Up to 90 percent of those at high risk in the general population are not identified by current family history-based testing," said the project leader, Monash University's Associate Professor Paul Lacaze.

Researchers said DNA variants in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes could lead to an increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer in women. While it won't react as strongly in men, it still links to breast and prostate cancer in men, and parents who carry these variants can also pass them onto their children.

Lynch Syndrome is another condition that increases the risk for colorectal, endometrial, and other gastrointestinal cancers. However, researchers said it has been proven that early interventions are available to reduce the risks of both cancer-related conditions. This includes attending annual check-ups and screens from age 30, and the option of risk-reducing surgery.

"For some people, this could save their lives through early detection and prevention of cancer and heart disease. We hope to identify those at risk while they are young and healthy, not after the fact, and empower them to make more informed decisions about their health," said Lacaze

The test also encompasses heart disease risk, focusing on familial hypercholesterolemia or "genetic high cholesterol", which results in high risk of heart disease from a young age. Researchers predicted that about one in 75 people could be identified at high risk of these diseases. They will be offered further expert consultations and prevention measures, such as regular scans and check-ups.

"If successful, this approach could dramatically improve access to genetic testing on a wide scale and save countless lives across a range of conditions," said co-lead for the project Jane Tiller.


Paul Lacaze
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