CANCER patients are being signed up to a massive genetic study that could improve the treatment of their conditions.

From today researchers will be asking eligible patients from around the county for genetic samples as part of the national 100,000 Genomes Project.

Doctors will be flagging up patients with breast, prostate, bowel, ovarian and lung cancer and asking them to provide a blood sample and a biopsy of their tumour.

The samples will then be DNA sequenced – producing a full map of that patient’s genetic code – before being held in the national database.

Prof Anna Schuh, director of the Oxford University Hospital Trust’s (OUHT) genetic medicine centre, said the data will be used to help treat current patients and for future medical research.

One patient to benefit from a pilot study into genetic sequencing is Prof Kevin Gatter, who was diagnosed with rare metastatic prostate cancer in December, which has spread to his lungs and liver.

The 63-year-old Oxford University pathology professor had a biopsy taken from his tumour as part of a pilot study and Prof Schuh said this has led to him being prescribed new medication specifically to tackle his type of cancer.

She added: “It is hoped that this will improve his quality of life and the disease will start to respond when it’s no longer responding to chemotherapy .”

The 100,000 Genome Project was launched by prime minister David Cameron in 2012 and is the largest genetic study of its kind in the world .

The project will see around 1,200 samples collected from 600 cancer patients as well as about 2,000 samples from about 660 rare disease patients and their families.

The rare diseases programme, which began in June, includes, but is not limited to, learning disabilities, congenital muscular dystrophy and adult onset conditions such as early onset dementia.

The project is run by the OUHT, with the laboratory a collaboration of the OMDC and Oxford University, funded through the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre.

Prof Schuh stressed all eligible patients will be approached by their doctors, and samples will only be taken after they give written consent.

She said: “The best case scenario is we will find out that he or she or the cancer has a highly clinically actionable genetic change that we cannot detect by conventional diagnostics.

“That will completely change the management of their treatment so they can get a different treatment that will prolong their life, have fewer side-effects and be more likely to be successful.”

She added: “We are particularly proud that we are the first of the genetic centres to launch our cancer programme.

“It is about improving outcomes for patients, whether they have rare diseases or cancer.”