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Genetic test rules out cancer for baby Oliver

A baby who was born with a large tumour on his leg has been spared chemotherapy and surgery, after whole genome sequencing at Addenbrooke’s revealed the lump was harmless.

WATCH: Sara and Michael Bell with 11 week old Oliver


Oliver's story video transcript:

00:00:06:05 - 00:00:06:14

00:00:06:14 - 00:00:09:13
your life has changed when you find out that he's got a tumor

00:00:09:13 - 00:00:12:11
and actually it could be cancer, it could be horrendous for him.

00:00:12:14 - 00:00:14:16
Then you have that test in and it was like a miracle.

00:00:14:16 - 00:00:16:02
It was just a miracle test.

00:00:16:02 - 00:00:19:14
And I just found out that actually it doesn't need to go through all that again.

00:00:19:14 - 00:00:22:20
And when you get told that, I mean, you just can't explain the relief.

00:00:23:01 - 00:00:24:19
It's just life. Yeah.

00:00:24:19 - 00:00:29:19
Your life just goes back to how it was or how it, you know, with with him in it.

00:00:30:07 - 00:00:30:17

00:00:30:17 - 00:00:33:14
I remember coming out of the appointment, finding out that obviously

00:00:33:24 - 00:00:35:10
we didn't have to do anything.

00:00:35:10 - 00:00:38:12
The genetic sequencing was that it was just in that location.

00:00:39:00 - 00:00:40:17
And my dad picked us up, didn't he?

00:00:40:17 - 00:00:41:23
And I just burst into tears.

00:00:41:23 - 00:00:43:11
And he thought, obviously the worst case scenario

00:00:43:11 - 00:00:45:12
because he thought, right, we're ready to start chemo.

00:00:45:23 - 00:00:47:10
And he was always it really bad news.

00:00:47:10 - 00:00:49:23
And he hugged me and.

00:00:49:23 - 00:00:52:00
Yeah, to tell him it was good. It' was good.

00:00:52:00 - 00:00:54:10
It's good news. It's all right.

00:00:54:10 - 00:00:56:09
It's absolute relief.

00:00:56:09 - 00:00:57:16

It was like a miracle, a miracle test that told us he didn't have cancer and we could go back to our normal lives.

Michael, Oliver's father

Sara and Michael received concerning news about their baby Oliver just a few days before his birth. An ultrasound showed a large tumour on his right leg measuring approximately 6cm in length.

After his birth, blood tests were taken and within two days the family were referred to the paediatric oncology team at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH).

Sara explained:

“It was really scary. At Addenbrooke’s more blood tests were taken and we were preparing for the worst. Then a consultant offered us Whole Genome Sequencing.

“Dr Behjati explained that results from this test, which just needed another sample of Oliver’s blood, would give us the most amount of detail possible on what we were dealing with.”

Dr Sam Behjati, consultant paediatric oncologist CUH


Oliver’s tumour initially looked like a type of sarcoma called infantile fibrosarcoma which we typically treat with surgery, chemotherapy or other specific drugs

Dr Sam Behjati, consultant paediatric oncologist CUH

Dr Sam Behjati is consultant paediatric oncologist at CUH and group leader at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. He treated Oliver and said:

“Under the microscope, Oliver’s tumour initially looked like a type of sarcoma called infantile fibrosarcoma which we typically treat with surgery, chemotherapy or other specific drugs.

“Although initially Oliver’s seemed to be an infantile fibrosarcoma, standard molecular test did not confirm this diagnosis.

"Whole genome sequencing solved the mystery. It highlighted that Oliver’s tumour had a particular mutation which completely changed the diagnosis of Oliver’s tumour from cancer into a benign tumour type called myofibroma.

“With this revised diagnosis we were able to change our treatment plan, opting to simply observe the tumour in the first instance, which has since started to shrink without any treatment.”

Whole Genome Sequencing

Whole Genome Sequencing is the process of determining the entirety, or nearly the entirety, of the DNA sequence of a person’s genome at a single time.

It captures both large and small variants that can be missed with other targeted approaches. In Oliver’s case, the whole genome of the tumour was sequenced and compared to the sequenced DNA in his blood cells.

The test is available on the NHS National Genomic Test Directory and is offered routinely for all children with cancer at CUH.

Patients are referred to CUH from hospitals across the East of England for this highly specialised treatment.

Scientists at East Genomic Laboratory Hub provide expert analysis and interpretation of the patients WGS reports to help inform the clinical team’s decisions on the best course of treatment.

I burst in to tears and my Dad obviously thought the worst and hugged me ... and I told him it's ok, it's good news.

Sara, Oliver's mother
Baby Oliver Bell
Oliver Bell

Oliver’s mother Sara said:

“For the first eight weeks of Oliver being born, we lived with the prospect of cancer dominating all our lives and chemotherapy being the next step. Two weeks after his whole genome test, everything changed. We found out his tumour is benign and it’s getting smaller without any treatment. We couldn’t be more relieved.”

“The team at Addenbrooke’s were incredible. They were honest with us at every step keeping us well informed of what we were dealing with.

“Oliver is now getting bigger and stronger every day. It’s fantastic.”

Oliver’s father Michael added:

“Our lives were turned upside down when we thought Oliver would need surgery and chemotherapy. Receiving such clarity on the type of tumour we were dealing was so important.

“We know we are really lucky to have such an outcome and it enabled us to live our lives again.”

Professor Dame Sue Hill from the National Genomic Medicine Service commented:

“I've been able to see first-hand what this has meant for Oliver and his family, which is a powerful demonstration of the power of genomics to drive real benefits for patients and families.”

A video showing feedback from two families (including Sara and Michael) about their experience of whole genome sequencing and what the results meant to them, can be seen here. (opens in a new tab)

Cambridge Children's Hospital

Baby Oliver’s case is an example of how young people and their families from across the East of England, and beyond, will benefit from Cambridge Children’s Hospital.

The new hospital will co-locate world-class scientists and doctors to deliver the latest in diagnostics and treatment.

By building this specialist new facility on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus we will be able to use whole genome sequencing to drive cutting edge treatment and therapies for more children and young people across the whole region and beyond.

Artist's impression of Cambridge Children's Hospital
Images of proposed Cambridge Children's Hospital