The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has approved an expansion of the laws on the screening of embryos for diseases.
A public meeting of the watchdog in Belfast on Wednesday decided to back a measure that would see IVF clinics be licensed to test artificially fertilised embryos for genes that carry breast, colon and ovarian cancer.
Until now, embryo screening has only been permitted for inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis.
The screenings will look for BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are believed to result in an 80 per cent and a 40 per cent chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer, respectively.
Carrying an HNPCC gene is thought to result in the development of colon cancer in 80 per cent of people.
"This is not about opening the door to wholesale genetic testing," commented Dame Suzi Leather, chairwoman of the HFEA, in response to an outcry from some organisations.
"This is about considering a particular group of genetic conditions to be sufficiently serious to merit the use of PGD embryo testing."