Beating bowel cancer together

Bowel cancer patients in Northern Ireland receive life-saving testing before starting chemotherapy

Tuesday 16 February 2021

All cancer patients in Northern Ireland will be routinely screened ahead of starting certain chemotherapy treatments, to identify whether they're at risk of severe side effects, the country's Department of Health has announced.

An estimated 10% of patients prescribed fluoropyrimidine drugs, which are widely used for the treatment of cancer, can develop severe, sometimes life-threatening side effects.

These toxicities can be triggered by genetic variations in DPYD, the gene that encodes for dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase (DPD) enzyme which helps to break down the chemotherapy drugs.

Low levels of the DPD enzyme – predicted by the genetic test – can result in a build-up of these chemotherapy drugs, making the side effects more severe and occasionally fatal.

All six Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland will now routinely offer the DPYD test to cancer patients, including those with bowel cancer. If a patient is found to have low levels of the DPD enzyme then their treatment can be adjusted accordingly, helping to prevent side effects occurring and leading to significantly improved outcomes.

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive at Bowel Cancer UK, said: "DPD deficiency can cause life-threatening – and sometimes even fatal – reactions to certain types of chemotherapy.

"Together with patients and loved ones affected by DPD, we have been shining a light on the impact the deficiency has on many families.

"We're extremely pleased that this potentially lifesaving testing is now available to all cancer patients receiving this type of chemotherapy across Northern Ireland prior to starting their treatment."

As well as Northern Ireland routine testing is also available in England and Wales, and we now want to see it routinely introduced across Scotland too.

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