Christchurch scientists call for mandatory genetic screenings for women diagnosed with breast cancer

Christchurch scientists are calling for mandatory genetic screenings of all women diagnosed with breast cancer.

It comes after they discovered only half of those diagnosed are being offered genetic screening.

And they say the extra information could prevent hundreds more women from getting the disease.

Extracting DNA from breast cancer patients. These Christchurch geneticists have just finished a four-year study analysing the genes of 367 women.

"Of those individuals where we found a genetic change or a genetic variant which increases risk of disease significantly, only half had undergone genetic screening," says Christchurch geneticist Professor Logan Walker.

This type of genetic screening isn't offered to all breast cancer patients - but this new study suggests they should be given the option.

"Our study suggests that there are a number of people who are particularly vulnerable and have a predisposition to developing cancer and we have the potential to identify these individuals and intervene and they can get tailored prevention," Prof Walker says.

It's this same screening that prompted Angelina Jolie to get a double mastectomy in 2013.

Jolie's mother who died of breast cancer carried a gene variant, increasing Jolie's risk of also developing the disease.

It had the 'Angelina Effect', prompting women to get screened. But these geneticists are hoping their research will speak for itself.

"There are a number of women who develop breast cancer in New Zealand that are eligible for genetic testing who are not receiving genetic testing," Prof Walker says.

That lack of screening is potentially impacting future generations.

"It's not just the family that's alive today, it's actually family members, the children, the children's children and so on, information is powerful," Prof Walker says.

It's important information for cancer survivor Hannah Thomas-King - she was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 28 and was offered screening.

"I had the BRCA Plus testing for my genetic mutations just to check if I carried the genes just in case it affected my sisters or my daughters," Thomas-King says.

It was a relief when the results came back negative.

"I didn't even think it could be genetic but when she did have it done and we found out that it couldn't be passed on to any of us it was quite a relief yeah, very important to know," Thomas-King's sister Rosie King says.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer for females - in New Zealand each year 3000 women will develop it and 600 will die.

"Right now we are missing people and they don't need to be developing the disease," Walker says.

A disease that doesn't discriminate from an A-list celebrity to New Zealand women like Thomas-King.