“Genetic testing transformed my treatment”


Clare, 37, is a patient at The Royal Marsden. In 2010, after being enrolled in a research study, she was given a genetic test that identified the genetic cause of her cancer. This discovery transformed her treatment, making it much more effective. We asked her some questions about her experiences…

Clare Henderson, TGL case study

Q. When were you first diagnosed with cancer?

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2005, when I was just 30 years old. This was before I was a patient at The Royal Marsden. My doctors treated the disease quite aggressively and successfully – using a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and medication. I considered myself to have had a lucky escape. I went on holiday, got married and moved on with my career and my life. I thought I was putting the cancer experience behind me.”

Q. But it came back?

“Yes, five years later. In early 2010 we were told that my cancer had metastasised – spread to my liver and my spine. It was so unexpected and was incredibly scary for me, because it is exactly what had happened to my mum, who was diagnosed with cancer at 47 and died five years later.”

Q. Why did you ask to be referred to The Royal Marsden?

“Before the genetic cause of my cancer was known I was given chemotherapy which actually made my tumour grow and put me in A&E for a week. After this truly awful experience, my husband and I decided that I needed to get to The Royal Marsden in order to have the best possible chance.”

Q. How did you come to have a genetic test?

“I didn’t actually qualify for a genetic test according to NHS guidelines, even though my mum had died of cancer. Access to these tests has been very limited, which is something that has to change.

“My genetic test eventually came about because Professor Nazneen Rahman at The Royal Marsden enrolled me in a study she was conducting, which was looking at the role genetics play in causing cancer. I was tested as a routine part of the enrolment process, and the results of this single test have been truly dramatic, totally changing my treatment and making it much more effective.”

Q. What did your test reveal?

“My cancer turned out to have been triggered by a particular kind of genetic mutation – called BRCA2 – that causes the body to produce faulty proteins and, ultimately, tumours. Knowing my BRCA status enabled my doctors to draw up a targeted treatment plan that has now had me in remission for 18 months.”

Q. What do you consider to be the main advantages of genetic screening?

“The more doctors can learn about exactly what form of cancer a person has, and the sooner they can learn it, the more effectively they can tailor their treatments. Cancer treatment isn’t ‘one size fits all’. My original chemo put me in A&E, but targeted treatment aimed at the genetic cause of my cancer has had me in remission for a year and a half. Everyone’s an individual – different things work on different people.”

Q. How else do you see genetic tests benefiting cancer patients?

“In my case, knowing the genetic cause of my cancer has enabled me to participate in a clinical trial for a drug specifically aimed at controlling BRCA2 cancers like mine. This could lead to a breakthrough that would benefit a lot of people.

“Lastly, I think it is really important for my family, especially my sisters, to know whether they might also have a genetic predisposition to certain forms of cancer.”

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Please help The Royal Marsden open the Translational Genetics Laboratory so that other patients can benefit from these pioneering genetic tests.

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