A recent study using a new computer-based decision support system called GRAIDS has demonstrated its potential in significantly improving the management of patients with a family history of breast and bowel cancer.

The GRAIDS (Genetic Risk Assessment on the Internet with Decision Support) system calculates family cancer risks for individual patients by combining information on the risk of developing the disease with information given by the patient about their family’s health history.

Out of 45 general practices in East Anglia taking part in the trial - funded by Cancer Research UK and the National Health Service and published in the British Journal of Breast Cancer - 23 adopted the GRAIDS system and 22 used standard best practice when considering referral of patients with a family history of the disease.

GRAIDs performance boost

It was found that not only did using the GRAIDS system boost the number of patients being referred to regional genetics specialists compared to best practice alone (162 patients versus 84), it also ensured that referrals more closely matched official guidelines. Ninety-three patients with a family history of breast cancer referred by GPs using GRAIDs met the official guidelines for increased risk compared to 73% of those referred via best practice. And for bowel cancer, the figures were 99% and 92%, respectively.

Lead researcher Professor Jon Emery, currently based at the University of Western Australia, said: "Our study shows for the first time the value of software that assesses family history for general practice.”

And Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, which owns the British Journal of Cancer, said: "As we discover more about the genetic factors associated with cancer, GPs will be on the front line when it comes to providing advice and support to those with a history of the disease in their families, and reassuring those who may have overestimated their risk. Assessment software like GRAIDS will have a significant role to play, helping to detect those at increased risk and reassuring those who are not."