A descriptive study of UK cancer genetics services: an emerging clinical response to the new genetics

Br J Cancer. 2001 Jul 20;85(2):166-70. doi: 10.1054/bjoc.2001.1893.


The objective was to describe NHS cancer genetic counselling services and compare UK regions. The study design was a cross-sectional study over 4 weeks and attendee survey. The setting was 22 of the 24 regional cancer genetics services in the UK NHS. Participants were individuals aged over 18 attending clinics at these services. Outcome measures were staff levels, referral rates, consultation rates, follow-up plans, waiting time. There were only 11 dedicated cancer geneticists across the 22 centres. Referrals were mainly concerned with breast (63%), bowel (18%) and ovarian (12%) cancers. Only 7% of referrals were for men and 3% were for individuals from ethnic minorities. Referral rates varied from 76 to 410 per million per annum across the regions. Median waiting time for an initial appointment was 19 weeks, ranging across regions from 4 to 53 weeks. Individuals at population-level genetic risk accounted for 27% of consultations (range 0%, 58%). Shortfalls in cancer genetics staff and in the provision of genetic testing and cancer surveillance have resulted in large regional variations in access to care. Initiatives to disseminate referral and management guidelines to cancer units and primary care should be adequately resourced so that clinical genetics teams can focus on the genetic testing and management of high-risk families.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Genetic Counseling / organization & administration*
  • Genetic Counseling / standards
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Risk Management
  • United Kingdom