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One-Third of Breast Cancer Patients Concerned About Genetic Risk

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Key Points

  • Of women with breast cancer, 35% expressed a desire for genetic testing, but 43% of those women did not discuss these wishes with a health-care professional.
  • Worry that a family member would be at genetic risk for cancer was highest among Latinas who spoke only Spanish (83%).
  • Many of the women who reported interest in genetic testing were at low risk of having a mutation.

A new study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center found that many women diagnosed with breast cancer are concerned about the genetic risk of developing other cancers themselves, or of a loved one developing cancer. These findings were published by Jagsi et al in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Overall, 35% of women with breast cancer expressed a strong desire for genetic testing, but 43% of those women did not have a relevant discussion with a health-care professional. Researchers also found that racial minority patients with a strong desire for testing were less likely than white patients to discuss it with a professional, even though studies show that minority patients are not at lower risk for these mutations.  

“Our findings suggest a marked unmet need for discussion about genetic risk,” said Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil, Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Michigan Medical School.

Risk of Mutations

About 5% to 10% of breast cancer patients have an inherited genetic mutation that drives their cancer. Many of the women who reported interest in genetic testing were at low risk of having a mutation, and doctors would not typically discuss genetic risk with them.

“With recent judicial opinions, direct-to-consumer marketing, and celebrity reports, 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,” Dr. Jagsi said.

The researchers surveyed 1,536 women who had been treated for breast cancer. Patients were identified through the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results databases from Detroit and Los Angeles.

Starting a Conversation

Patients who had a strong desire for testing reported being worried that other members of their family might get breast cancer in the future. Worry was highest among Latinas who spoke only Spanish, where 83% reported this concern. 

In addition, these women were more likely to report worry about their own risks when evaluated in long-term follow-up as survivors. Nearly half of those who had an unmet need for discussion about genetic testing were worried about breast cancer. Only a quarter of those who did not have an unmet need reported this worry.

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

Dr. Jagsi is the corresponding author of the Journal of Clinical Oncology article. 

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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