Women on Medicare Aren’t Getting Genetic Tests for Breast and Ovarian Cancer

According to a story from medicinenet.com, a recent study found that women on Medicare are not getting genetic tests for BRCA mutations that could lead to ovarian cancer and breast cancer, even when their medical histories suggest that they could be at risk. If a women tests positive for these mutations, preemptive intervention can reduce their risk of these cancer back to near-normal levels.

About BRCA Mutations

Mutations of the BRCA genes have been linked to a significantly elevated risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer in women, as well as a greater risk of prostate cancer in men. These mutations increase the risk of breast cancer by five times and can also increase the risk of ovarian cancer by an alarming ten to thirty times. These mutations do not necessarily guarantee that an affected person will get cancer, nor does it mean that any cancer that appears is directly the result of the mutation. Not all BRCA mutations are high-risk.

There are several signs, mostly related to family history, the may mean that an individual should get tested.

  • Known family members with mutations
  • Family members diagnosed with cancer at a young age (ex. breast cancer under age 30)
  • Multiple family members with breast/ovarian cancer
  • A family member with both types of cancer
  • Male family member with breast cancer

About The Study

The research team looked at data from 12 states from the southeastern region of the US. What they found was not good; only 8 percent of a group of 92 women who met the criteria for getting tested for BRCA mutations actually ended up getting the test within five years of getting cancer. There were also multiple states were no women received the test.

Without knowledge of having these mutations, it is impossible for these women to take the steps necessary to potentially save their lives and prevent themselves from getting breast or ovarian cancer. None of the patients received a recommendation to seek genetic counseling.

The researchers said that possible explanations for the low rate of testing could simply reflect a lack of patient interest in receiving them; without the urging from a doctor, many women may not be informed as to why these tests are important. Check out the original study here.


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