Study: Doctors Not Referring High-Risk Women to Undergo Genetic Testing

Study: Doctors Not Referring High-Risk Women to Undergo Genetic TestingNot enough doctors are referring women who are at an elevated risk for ovarian cancer for genetic testing, even though most physicians follow the guidelines that are set for testing women who have an average risk of ovarian cancer, HealthDay reports.

According to the news source, a recent study conducted by Dr. Katrina F. Trivers found that doctors throughout the country regularly follow standards set to recommend against genetic counseling and testing for women who display an average risk of developing ovarian cancer, but not even half of them follow the guidelines that are set for referring high-risk women.

The study, which took place at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and was comprised of researchers from the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, was published in a recent issue of the medical journal Cancer. The investigation set out to determine whether U.S. physicians adhere to established genetic counseling and testing procedures for women at either high or average risk of ovarian cancer, the news provider stated.

Surveys administered by the researchers, including a yearly examination vignette, were distributed to 3,200 workers in the healthcare industry, which resulted in 1,878 respondents. The surveys inquired about patient backgrounds and characteristics, such as their risk of ovarian cancer and other medical information. The researchers weighted the findings of the survey against the country's population of primary-care physicians and found predictors of adherence to guidelines, the media outlet stated.

After compiling the data, investigators found that 71 percent of doctors claimed to adhere to the recommendations against genetic counseling and testing for women who had an average risk of ovarian cancer. The physicians analyzed the multivariate data by comparing several social groups together, including black versus white race, those on Medicaid and those who hold private insurance, and rural dwellers versus people who live in the city.

Only 41 percent of doctors reported that they adhered to the recommendations for a referral for genetic counseling and testing.

"Many physicians report practices contrary to these recommendations, with too many average-risk women being referred for genetic counseling or testing, and too few high-risk women receiving these important services," the authors write, according to HealthDay.

The authors concluded the report by stating that intervention efforts, which would include a promotion of accurate risk assessments, are needed in order to quickly catch genetic predispositions to ovarian cancer.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the study found that doctors were much more likely to recommend the cancer prevention measures to a 35 year old than a 51 year old, and doctors in cities were more likely to comply to the guidelines than rural doctors.

The news source states that having the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations increase a woman's risk of ovarian cancer dramatically, but the identification of these mutations can be seen if proper measures, such as genetic testing, are taken early on. Women who test positive for the mutation have the option of undergoing preventative treatments, such as mastectomy or oophorectomy, but for women of average risk, these options are "an inefficient use of resources," and are "associated with, at most, a small clinical benefit."

According to the National Library of Medicine, ovarian cancer is the fifth-most common cancer for women, and results in the most fatalities of any other type of cancer unique to the female reproductive system.

While the cause is unknown, it has been strongly linked to genetic factors, and those with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer have a much higher chance of developing the disease.