BRCA testing–it’s anything but simple

Myriad Genetics is launching a public awareness advertising campaign in Florida to promote testing of a BRCA mutation (AKA the breast cancer gene).

As both a healthcare marketer and a woman with a BRCA mutation, I’m thrilled that they are raising awareness. But I’m equally concerned. I should preface this by saying I haven’t actually seen the advertising materials but I’ve seen some press on the campaign. They quote an OBGYN as saying it’s a simple blood test. Sure it is. Most of these tests are simple but it’s the results that are not in the least bit simple. The article goes on to say: “Although no test is completely reliable, doctors recommend that all women know their BRCA status.”

Does that mean that all women should walk into their Primary Care Physician or OBGYN and take the test? Should women start doing this on their 18th birthday? Yikes. Are these doctor’s equipped to counsel women if they do have the BRCA mutation? Are they able to knowledgeably talk to the women prior to testing to discuss the implications of the test? BRCA is not something to take lightly.

If you have a known BRCA mutation, you have up to an 87% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and up to 44% chance of developing ovarian cancer. Genetics Counselors are the people that should be drawing your blood, counseling you and guiding you through the process. They have the knowledge, the training and the time to give you what you need. I only hope that Myriad is making this clear in their advertising. This test is anything but simple.







Posted on November 25, 2008, in advertising, brca and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I 110% agree with what you are saying!

    As a genetic counselor, I see how the lab is pushing primary care doctors and obgyn’s to bypass the genetic counseling process, and just order the test on their patients. The lab is pushing the doctors, telling them not only is it “simple,” but that they are helping, and potentially saving their patients by this.
    How can the lab, or the business that holds the rights in the U.S. to do this testing tell a doctor when they should order a test on a patient? Does an Astra-Zeneca rep come in to a medical oncologist’s office and point out which patients should have Tamoxifen? No, they provide literature about their product, and then the physician determines what should happen to their patient.
    Also, genetic testing is NOT simple. Sure it requires blood, but there are many factors that should be considered prior to having a BRCA gene test – and that is where a genetics professional (a genetic counselor, or a healthcare provider with more training in cancer genetics than Myriad’s two hour training session) is not only equipped to answer the tough questions that surround genetic testing, but the emotional and psychological impact testing can have on an individual and their family.

    That is why Michigan has a state law that requires Informed Consent prior to any genetic testing. I emphasize on the INFORMED part. That means that any patient has the right to decline testing if they are not ready for it, and that they have heard all the pros and cons of testing. It’s not just a five minute explanation by the obgyn that is informed consent.
    There have been many studies that show the benefit of pre-test and post-test counseling with regards to any hereditary cancer gene testing. And I have seen the good and the bad and how difficult it is on the patient.

    So if someone is offered BRCA testing through their regular doctor’s office, you should stop and ask yourself if that is a service to you, or a disservice. Should you see the genetics specialist that really understands the minutia and what your options are depending on the results?? Should you take the easier way, or the way that ALL the national societies recommend and stress? Or should we be at the mercy of the lab that has the financial benefit of testing as many people as possible?

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