Although a test for gene mutations known to significantly increase the risk of hereditary breast or ovarian cancer has been available for more than a decade, a new study finds that few women with family histories of these cancers are even discussing genetic testing with their physicians or other health care providers. In a report in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, which has been released online, investigators from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Institute of Health Policy and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute note that their findings illustrate the challenges of bringing genetic information into real-world clinical practice.
"Testing for BRCA1 and 2 mutations has been around a long time and should be a good indicator of whether genetic testing is making its way into regular medical practice," says Douglas Levy, PhD, of the MGH Institute for Health Policy, the study's lead author. "When a well-established genetic test is not being incorporated into clinical practice when appropriate, we are a long way from meeting the promise of personalized, genetically-tailored medical care."
Most women's lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 13 percent, and the risk for ovarian cancer is less than 2 percent. But women with mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes may be 3 to 7 times more likely to develop breast cancer and 9 to 30 times more likely to develop ovarian cancer than women with unaltered forms of the genes. Several organizations have issued clinical guidelines designating who should be screened for BRCA1/2 mutations, and while there have been discrepancies among the guidelines, all of them include a history of breast or ovarian cancer in close relatives among the criteria indicating elevated risk. The authors note that most U.S. health insurers cover at least part of the cost of BRCA1/2 testing for at-risk women.
The current study analyzed data from the 2000 and 2005 National Health Interview Surveys, both of
|Contact: Sue McGreevey|
Massachusetts General Hospital