Ovarian cancer patients in Malaysia will soon have access to genetic counselling for testing of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes linked to their cancer. The ‘Mainstreaming genetic counselling (Magic) for genetic testing of BRCA1 and BRCA2 in Malaysian Ovarian Cancer Patients’ study run by Cancer Research Malaysia (CRM) has been ongoing for six months and strives to increase awareness on genetic testing amongst patients.

“In Malaysia, access to genetic testing and counselling have only been available in Klang Valley and it is difficult for this test to be done anywhere outside,” said CRM certified genetic counsellor Yoon Sook Yee.

“The aim of the Magic study is trying to incorporate genetic testing in normal clinical pathway,” she added. Yoon also pointed out that there was a lack of certified genetic counsellors in this country and this study could train and increase the number of clinicians venturing into this field.

Aside from that, it can expose them to the prevalence of the BRCA gene mutations in ovarian cancer and further investigate the psychosocial effects of ovarian cancer on patients and their families.

Division of study into biological, psychological and social aspects

Currently, there are 29 locations including 63 clinicians trained to carry out this study. Blood samples are taken from the patients and their genes are thoroughly investigated.

Yoon explained, “We extract DNA to see if there are any changes in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes as well as other genes associated with breast and/or ovarian cancers.”

Consequently, patients are interviewed and given a questionnaire to fill out to fully grasp the extent of psychological and social impacts of the genetic testing. The BRCA gene being hereditary in nature could not only affect patients’ decisions but also their family members with the same genetic alteration.

"We want to know whether they worry about it a lot or whether they worry about their relatives or whether there are issues occurring within the families or whether there are other issues,” said Yoon.

She also added, “In our social setting, having anything hereditary is not seen in a good light and there is stigma associated with it. We want to have a measure to see how deep the stigma is.”

The Magic test aims to recruit 800 patients in their study by the end of two years.

Paving the way for cancer research

In an initiative to encourage cancer research amongst local scientists, Makna Cancer Research Award recently granted three worthy doctors RM90,000 collectively to fund their research efforts. The recipients of the grants were Dr Asrul Akmal Shafie (Universiti Sains Malaysia), Dr Oon Chern Ein (Universiti Sains Malaysia) and Dr Ronald Teow Sin Yeang (Sunway University).

Makna’s president and founder Datuk Mohd Farid Ariffin stated, “This award has been a part of our research-related endeavours, which include collaborations with universities and research institutes in Malaysia to advance knowledge in the field in the hopes of helping cancer patients throughout the country and finding a potential curative treatment for cancer.”

“It is encouraging for us at Makna to receive 66 applications for this award in 2016; the most number of applications we have received. It is encouraging for us at Makna to receive 66 applications for this award in 2016; the most number of applications we have received. It is an indication that cancer is a research focus among young scientists and that there is increasing interest as well as work being done in this area,” he said. MIMS

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