Over the past 20 years, Nazneen Rahman has identified a steady stream of genes that influence the risk of breast, ovarian, and childhood cancers—work that has earned her scientific, popular, and even royal acclaim. But her latest accomplishment, and one of her proudest, is very different.
Rahman has created a shortcut in the British healthcare system that will give women with ovarian cancer access to a critical genetic test. The results will provide them with important information about their particular tumors, ensure that they get the best possible treatment, and perhaps even prevent cancers in their close relatives. And as the icing on the cake, the new pathway is cost-efficient, saving time and money as well as lives. “It’s an unusual circumstance where everyone’s winning, including the health service,” says Rahman. “I’ve never encountered that in my career.”
In the world of cancer medicine, bureaucracy can be as difficult an adversary as tumors. And sometimes, the biggest wins aren’t in making splashy, technology-driven scientific discoveries, but in doing the thankless, unglamorous logistical work that allows patients to actually benefit from said discoveries. “It’s about making sure that the things we’ve done are genuinely going to help people,” says Rahman.
Every year, 225,000 women around the world are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and between 10 and 15 percent of these cases are driven by inherited mutations in two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2. It’s important for women to know if they’re part of that 15 percent; their health, and that of their relatives, might depend on it.