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World-first cancer gene support program launched

Friday 29 June, 2007

The Cancer Council Victoria is today launching a world-first telephone support program for people who carry genes that may increase their risk of developing cancer.

The Gene Support program will enable someone who has been tested and found to carry a cancer susceptibility gene to speak to a volunteer who is in a similar situation.

Support services have previously been limited for people who carry these genes. This program has been developed in conjunction with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Victorian Familial Cancer Centres.

Dr Michael Jefford, Clinical Consultant for the Cancer Information and Support Service at The Cancer Council Victoria said results from recent research highlighted the need for such a support service:

"It can be frightening to find out that you carry a gene that increases your risk of developing cancer. Women who carry these genes have a higher risk of developing some cancers including breast, bowel and ovarian cancer. Men who carry these genes have an increased risk of developing some cancers including bowel, breast and possibly prostate cancer. These genes may also be passed on to children.

"People face a range of difficult feelings and treatment decisions and feelings of distress are common. Speaking to a Gene Support volunteer is likely to help alleviate some of these concerns," said Dr Jefford.

Gene Support volunteers are men and women who carry cancer susceptibility genes and have been trained to help others feel less worried and more in control of their situation. This new support initiative extends the services of the Cancer Council's ‘Cancer Connect' telephone support program.

Gene Support volunteer, Dennis Burns was motivated to join the program after seeing his wife's reaction to the news he carried the gene that increased his risk of developing breast cancer:

"I half expected it because it was in the family but seeing my wife's shock made me realise how frightening the news can be for others. I want to inform others about the positive aspects of knowing you carry the gene; it doesn't mean we are going to get cancer; we are just at a higher risk and knowing means we can have regular check-ups and feel more in control of our situation," said Mr Burns. 

The Cancer Council Victoria is also at the forefront of research in this area; Director of the Cancer Epidemiology Centre, Professor Graham Giles is part of an international team that recently published results of a world-first large-scale study of faulty genes and breast cancer.

The results, which were published in British Science Journal Nature, found four new genes, which can cause breast cancer. It is hoped this finding will eventually lead to a single blood test, which will reveal which women are most at risk. This discovery is a major step towards explaining genetic influences on breast cancer risk.

Dr Jefford urges people who have been tested and found to carry the cancer susceptibility gene to talk to a gene support volunteer:

"We know from research how helpful it is to talk to someone who has been through a similar experience. People simply call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20 to talk to a volunteer. A cancer nurse will match the caller to a volunteer who will call at home at a convenient time," said Dr Jefford.

For more information about the Cancer Connect Gene Support program, call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20 or visit


If people are concerned about their risk of cancer due to their family history, call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20 or talk to your GP.

What:              Launch of Gene Support Program
When:             Friday 29 June, 12.00pm
Where:            The Cancer Council Victoria, 1 Rathdowne Street, Carlton

Available for interview:

Dr Michael Jefford
Clinical Consultant, Cancer Information and Support Services

Dennis Burns
Cancer Connect Gene Support volunteer

Media Contacts:

Sophy Chirnside, Communications and Resource Officer
9635 5131 / 0408 518 613                                  

Belinda Goldfinch, Media and Communications Officer
9635 5262 / 0419 552 719