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Sir John Burn, Alison and when to order a genetic test.

Recently I watched Sir John Burn’s interview with Alison – a very polite and lovely science teacher from the UK who unfortunately passed away one year after the interview was recorded.

From the interview, I learnt that Alison had been aware ever since she was a child that several women in her family had died in their thirties or forties from cancer.

Sadly, the medical profession (at the time) considered these cancers to be caused by environmental factors, not an underlying genetic cause.

So when Alison herself fell seriously ill and sought treatment, she asked for genetic tests, but was told that her recollections of cancer in her family were irrelevant to her condition and amounted to hearsay.

After Alison’s death, Sir John Burn wrote an editorial urging the medical community to reconsider at what point in diagnosis genetic tests should be ordered for patients. I wonder what impact Sir John Burn’s cautionary tale of Alison’s diagnosis and treatment has had, and reading through it recently, I’m reminded of the Australian Government’s announcements to reduce funding for pathology and other diagnostic services in 2016 .

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