Genetics

Study Suggests More Genetic Testing Discussions Needed With Breast Cancer Patients

By John Lugo

Illustration by Mario Wagner

A new study reveals that more than a third of women diagnosed with breast cancer show interest in genetic testing either for their own risk of developing other types of cancer or for the risk of their loved ones developing cancer.

However, among the 35 percent of women who were intrigued by genetic testing, 43 percent did not discuss the option with their doctor.  Many of the 1,536 women who participated in the study said their doctors would not have the discussion with them due to their low odds of having an inherited genetic mutation. It is estimated that inherited genetic mutations cause five to 10 percent of breast cancers.

In a press release, the study’s author Reshma Jagsi said consumers are more aware of genetic testing due to its increased exposure in the media, and that patients may still benefit from at least a discussion, no matter their own level of genetic risk.

“Our findings suggest a marked unmet need for discussion about genetic risk,” said Jagsi, who is an associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan Medical School, where she led the study.

Those who wanted to have genetic testing done expressed worry about the possibility of others in their family developing breast cancer in the future. Even though the study found that minority patients were less likely to discuss testing with their health care professionals, 83 percent of Latinas who spoke only Spanish and had interest in testing showed concern for their family members developing cancer in the future.

The study also showed that almost half of the patients who didn’t have their genetic discussion needs fulfilled by their doctor worried about breast cancer, and one fourth of those who did have their needs met reported worry as well.

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

Stay tuned for an article in our next issue of Genome on how to have a conversation about genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer with your doctor.