Spotlight on a specialist: Dr James Mackay, Consultant Genetic Oncologist

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Why did you choose your particular specialty?

I trained as a cancer physician with a special interest in offering genetic testing to cancer patients and their families. When I became a consultant I decided to stop giving chemotherapy drugs to patients and instead focus on giving information to patients about the genetic tests available to them, which would have an impact on their own clinical care and also on the care offered to their families. This whole field has expanded rapidly because of the availability of more accurate and cheaper genetic testing, and an increasing awareness in both the public and the profession of the importance of genetic testing.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Working as a clinician in partnership with the best inherited genetic testing laboratory in the world means that I can offer my patients the best testing service available. There is a massive amount of research now being done on genetic testing in cancer; both inherited genetic faults, and faults occurring in the genetic material of the tumour as it develops. My job is to explain the advantages and disadvantages of a particular test in their specific clinical situation. So I am at the cutting edge of genetic science as it impacts on high-quality clinical care for individual patients.

What one thing do you wish every member of the public knew?

The importance of high quality BRCA1/2 testing in young breast cancer patients and how it can change lives and prevent people developing ovarian cancer.

What three traits define you?

Using my knowledge to help individual patients understand the testing options available and so giving them the confidence to make the correct choice for them.

A restless desire to improve patient care by the introduction of new technology.

A desire to give my patients access to the very best in the world with our present knowledge, accepting that our knowledge base is always improving.

Who is your inspiration?

Personally: Dr Martin Luther King Jnr.

Professionally: Professor Sir Patrick Forrest who set up the UK NHS breast screening programme and first pointed me towards genetic testing in breast cancer patients.

What accomplishment in your life are you most proud of?

Personally: the safe arrival of my two daughters.

Professionally: setting up and completing to publication the largest study in the world on the effectiveness of annual mammography in young women with a family history of breast cancer, which was eventually accepted by the NHS breast screening programme.

If you could do another job for just one day, what would it be?

A shepherd in the North of Scotland.

What advances in medicine are you most excited about?

The integration of new genetic technology into clinical cancer care, with the identification of new diagnostic tests and new therapeutic interventions, with the eventual goal of effective cancer prevention strategies.


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Dr James Mackay, Consultant Genetic Oncologist

Book an appointment with Dr James Mackay

Read Dr Mackay’s latest article: Shouldn’t all young breast cancer patients be offered genetic testing to help prevent development of ovarian cancer?