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A third of breast cancer patients interested in genetic testing

1 in 3 breast cancer patients interested in genetic testing

A new survey has found that, although a third of breast cancer patients are concerned about their genetic risk of developing other cancers, nearly half are not discussing testing with their doctor.


Researchers surveyed 1,536 women in Los Angeles and Detroit who had been diagnosed with nonmetastatic breast cancer between 2005 and 2007. Thirty-five percent said they were interested in undergoing genetic testing for other, but only 28 percent actually discussed testing with their health care provider. Nineteen percent of the women actually underwent genetic testing.

The researchers also found that the desire for genetic testing was more common in younger women, Latinas, and those with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer. However, minority patients were significantly more likely not to have a discussion with their doctor, even if they had a strong desire for testing. Concern about long-term survivorship was also higher among patients who did not have a discussion with their doctor.

Patients who received genetic testing were younger, more likely to have a family history cancer, and less likely to be black, according to the study.

"Our findings suggest a marked unmet need for discussion about genetic risk," Dr. Reshma Jagsi, associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan Medical School, said in a press release.

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"With recent judicial opinions, direct-to-consumer marketing and celebrity reports [for example, Angelina Jolie], the public has become much more aware that genetic testing is available. But genetic risk is complex. Even patients unlikely to have elevated genetic risk may still benefit from a discussion," she added.

According to the National Cancer Institute, inherited mutations are thought to contribute to 5 to 10 percent of all cancers. However, even if a cancer-predisposing mutation is present in a family, it does not necessarily mean that everyone who inherits the mutation will develop cancer.

The researchers explained that many of the patients who expressed interest in genetic testing had a low risk of a mutation, and that their doctors generally would not discuss genetic testing with low-risk patients.

"By addressing genetic risk with patients, we can better inform them of their true risk of cancer returning or of developing a new cancer," Jagsi said. "This could potentially alleviate worry and reduce confusion about cancer risk."

The study was published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology on April 6.

A recent study found that black and Hispanic women with breast cancer are less likely to be actively involved in their care than white women. Minority patients were also more likely than white patients to receive medical care in lower-quality hospitals. Black and Hispanic breast cancer patients were also more likely than white patients to receive care from doctors caring for higher proportions of minority patients and doctors who are less well trained than those treating white patients.