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Genetic test to determine your risk of developing breast cancer will now be FREE for Australians

The test will be covered by Medicare for high-risk patients and their families.

By Bettina Tyrrell
Once costing Australians $2000, a genetic test that can reveal a person’s risk of developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer will be free.
The ABC reports, people at high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer will be offered free genetic testing after the Medical Services Advisory Committee has decided to list the BRCA1 and 2 genetic test in the Medicare Benefits Schedule.
This good news is very timely, with the announcement falling in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Melody Caramins from the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia spoke to the ABC explaining that both high-risk patients and their families would be able to access the free test once medical specialists assess their family history and risk.
"It is a huge milestone and will significantly improve the lives of Australians, offering more choice via access to affordable screening and treatment options," Dr Caramins said.
WATCH: 8-year-old girl battles a rare form of breast cancer. Article continues after video...
When it comes to breast cancer statistics in Australia, the figures are frightening. It is the most common cancer in Australian women. In fact, one in eight will be diagnosed before the age of 80.
Pathologist say better access to the genetic test means more patients with the mutation are likely to be identified. Once the patient receives their results, they can then discuss with the doctor what action to take next to protect themselves from breast or ovarian cancer.
In 2013 Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie made headlines when she spoke publicly about her decision to undergo a double mastectomy after genetic testing revealed that she had an 87 per cent chance of developing breast cancer. Angelina’s story sparked interest in the test, which once cost Australian’s $2000 before being reduced to $600.

What is the BRCA 1 and 2 genetic test?

Put simply, genetic testing is searching for a gene mutation in genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 (the genes linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer). A blood sample is taken from a woman in the family who has developed breast cancer or ovarian cancer and her DNA is then searched for a gene fault. If there is a mutation found, other members of the family (men and women) can be tested to see if they carry the same gene fault or not.
"If they don't have the mutation, they can go back to normal screening," Dr Caramins said.
"If they do have it, they can then decide on what action to take such as a double mastectomy."

Should I get tested?

Assessing your risks and if genetic testing will be helpful for you is something to discuss with your GP. However, the Centre For Genetics Education explains that genetic testing might be suitable for you and your family if:
  • One of your blood relatives has received a genetic test that shows they have a faulty cancer protection gene.
  • Three relatives on the same side of the family in at least two generations have been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer.
  • Two relatives on the same side of the family in two or more generations have breast or ovarian cancer, one of whom has been diagnosed with at least one of the following: breast cancer before 40 years of age; breast cancer in both breasts; both breast and ovarian cancer; breast cancer in a male relative.
If you and your family don’t qualify for the free test, you can still be tested and pay for the costs yourself.
For more information on genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer, visit your trusted GP.