More Genetic Tests Needed for Breast and Ovarian Cancer

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More Genetic Tests Needed for Breast and Ovarian Cancer

Too many women who at risk remain untested

By Working Nurse
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Genetic testing is becoming an important tool in preventing and combating ovarian and breast cancer. Unfortunately, a recent UCLA study found that few of the women who could benefit from these tests actually receive them.

In the Genes

Scientists now estimate that 10–15 percent of all ovarian and breast cancer cases are linked to hereditary mutations in certain genes. Inheriting one of these mutations doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop cancer, but it substantially increases your lifetime risk. 

Detecting these genetic mutations through blood or saliva tests can be a powerful tool for both treatment and prevention. However, as many as 1.3 million American women who may carry these mutations never undergo testing. 

A recent study by the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, published August 18 in the online edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that between 2005 and 2015, only 15.3 percent of women with a history of breast cancer and 10.5 percent of women with a history of ovarian cancer had received genetic testing. 

“Many women are not receiving vital information that can aid with cancer prevention and early detection,” warns coauthor Kimberly Childers, M.S., LCGC, regional manager of the clinical genetics and genomics program at Providence Health & Services Southern California.

Free Online Course

Deciding whether to undergo genetic testing isn’t an easy decision. Patients and families need clinical support in deciding whether the tests are appropriate for their risk level — and also in interpreting the results, which aren’t always straightforward. 

To help clinicians better understand the screening guidelines for genetic testing, the National Cancer Center Network (NCCN) offers a free online course, “Cancer Survivor Screening and Prevention Strategies and Genetic Testing for Patients, Families and Survivors.” The ANCC has approved the course for up to 0.34 contact hours of continuing education credit. For more information, visit

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