"Everybody deserves consideration for testing if their clinical and family history situation warrant it," Dr. James P. Evans, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Reuters Health. "Regardless of race, one has to approach genetic testing as an important option and explain the pros and cons to the patient."
Evans and associates examined race and the timing of breast cancer diagnosis and the frequency of BRCA1/2 genetic testing among women attending the UNC Cancer Genetics Service.
Among 768 women diagnosed with breast cancer who were offered BRCA1/2 testing, the rates of testing among African American and white patients did not differ, authors report.
Overall, African American women were 46 percent less likely than white women to undergo BRCA1/2 genetic testing, the author report.
Women who were diagnosed recently had a higher odds of pursuing testing than did women diagnosed more than 1 year before genetic evaluation, the investigators say, but this difference was statistically significant only for African American women, who were almost three-times as likely to undergo genetic testing.
Why a recent breast cancer diagnosis increases the use of BRCA1/2 genetic testing so "dramatically" among African American "could contribute to a better understanding of racial disparities in genetic testing and medicine," the authors conclude.
"We continue to aggressively try to find avenues for women who need testing but can't afford it, Evans said."One of the most interesting (and distressing) features of our study in my mind is that almost half of the patients who could benefit from testing can't get it...either because they had no insurance or their insurance was inadequate. Only through our special program were we able to provide it for all those patients."
Maximizing the use of BRCA1/2 testing requires "good genetic counseling and a personalized attentive approach on the side of the medical team," Evans advised. "We try to take a lot of time to explain the nuances to women and why testing can be of help to them and their families. I think this is especially important with African American patients where there is traditionally a lower level of trust in the medical profession (understandably)."
SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Oncology, January 1, 2008; breastcancer.org