At least 800 individuals were referred to the Hereditary Cancer and High-Risk Screening Clinic last year, for evaluation associated with their risk of hereditary cancer, according to Dr Salha Bujassoum, Senior Consultant for Hematology and Oncology, and Director of Hereditary and High-Risk Screening Programme at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC).

Since the establishment of the Clinic in 2013, 2029 patients have benefited from genetic assessments, resulting in decreased cancer risk, early detection, and targeted treatment.

The genetic counseling and testing service, which is part of the Hereditary and High-Risk Screening Clinic at the National Centre for Cancer Care and Research (NCCCR), provides a comprehensive genetic risk assessment for patients who are concerned about their hereditary cancer risk because of personal and/or family history.

The multidisciplinary clinic aims to identify patients at high risk of developing cancer. Staff at the clinic provide targeted therapies, including prophylactic surgery (surgery as a preventive measure) and chemoprevention (use of medication to lower the risk or prevent cancer), and work with patients to incorporate prevention strategies in their life that can help reduce their cancer risk.

According to Dr Bujassoum, also the Program Director of the Medical Oncology Fellowship training programme at NCCCR, some individuals are at greater risk of developing cancer due to inherited gene faults (mutations). She says inherited gene faults are responsible for around five to ten percent of all cancers.

Greater awareness of the role genetics can play in causing certain cancers, as well as increased knowledge of the screening tools available at HMC, has led to more patients requesting genetic counseling and testing.’

Genetic testing examines a patient’s DNA for gene faults (mutations). According to Dr Bujassoum, genetic testing for cancer is typically recommended for individuals who are diagnosed with the disease at a very young age and for individuals who have a strong family history of cancer. Currently, genetic testing is available to screen for gene faults that increase an individual’s risk of breast, bowel, ovarian, womb, and prostate cancers. Dr Bujassoum notes that these tests can only be ordered by a board-certified genetic counselor.

Part of our job involves helping patients make appropriate and informed choices to reduce their risk of developing cancer, or in the case of patients who are in the early stages of the disease’s progression, to reduce the risk of recurrence, or to help control the disease in the case of advanced progression.’

Dr Reem Jawad Al Sulaiman, an American Board Certified Genetic Counselor at NCCCR, said the genetic counseling and testing service uses a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach. A team of specialists work together to help patients understand their cancer risk as part of a comprehensive risk assessment.

If an individual has a strong family history of cancer and the genetic counselor deems the individual to be at high risk of having a gene mutation, the counselor will talk to the patient about the process of genetic testing, including the pros and cons of testing and the possible implications for the patient’s health, and the health of their family.

For more information about the cancer screening programme at HMC, visit their website at hamad.qa.