March 3, 2024

Embryos could be screened for cancer risk as adults

The British fertility authority is to consult the public about the possibility of allowing embryos to be screened for genes which carry an increased risk of cancer in adult life. If the response is favourable, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority plans to grant licences early next year. In the past the authority has only approved screening for a condition which invariably leads to a untreatable disease or for one that strikes in childhood.

The HFEA was criticised last year for allowing screening for a bowel cancer gene without consulting either Parliament or the public. Now it wants to test the waters about screening for BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which raise the risk of breast cancer to between 60 and 80 per cent, and a handful of other cancers. “What we are asking people is whether it is appropriate to use embryo screening technology to stop children being born with faulty genes when there is a chance they may never go on to suffer the cancer,” says Angela McNab, the chief executive of the HFEA.