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Breast Cancer Patients Concerned About Genetic Risk, Survey Finds

But almost half don't have conversation with doctor about potential for future problems

MONDAY, April 6, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Although many women with breast cancer are concerned about their genetic risk for other cancers -- as well as their relatives' risk for breast cancer -- almost half of these patients don't get information about genetic testing, a new study finds.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,500 breast cancer patients in Detroit and Los Angeles and found that 35 percent had a strong interest in genetic testing.

One major reason for their interest was concern that other members of their family might have a genetic risk for breast cancer. That worry was highest (83 percent) among Hispanic breast cancer patients who spoke only Spanish, the study found.

Many of those interested in genetic testing were also concerned about their own future risk of other types of cancer, according to the study in the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The researchers also found that 43 percent of women with a strong interest in genetic testing didn't discuss the topic with a medical professional. This was more common among women in racial/ethnic minorities than among white women.

"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 university news release.

Genetic mutations cause breast cancer in 5 to 10 percent of patients with the disease. Many of the patients who said they were interested in genetic testing had a low risk of such a mutation and their doctors generally wouldn't bring up the topic of genetic testing with these patients, the study authors explained.

"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," Jagsi said.

Breast cancer patients with a genetic mutation are at higher risk for a second breast cancer and may choose more aggressive treatment, preventive measures or additional screening, the researchers said.

"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," Jagsi said in the news release.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about genetics and breast cancer.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, April 6, 2015
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