Gene testing recommended by U.S. officials for breast and ovarian cancer survivors

"This should be a test of inclusivity, not exclusivity," says a locl breast surgeon with SSM Health Medical Group.

Fred Bodimer
September 04, 2019 - 8:18 am
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ST. LOUIS (KMOX) — New federal guidelines suggest more women may need breast cancer gene testing. 
 
The U.S. Services Preventive Task Force now recommends women who have already survived breast or ovarian cancer -- or who have a family history of cancer -- should consider gene testing for hereditary cancer -- and may benefit from such testing.

"Current guidelines are moving in the direction of testing anyone who has ever had breast cancer," said Dr. Andrea Behr, a breast surgeon with SSM Health Medical Group. "That's in addition to if you are a person who has a strong family history of breast cancer or particularly if your affected relatives are no longer living.  Then genetic testing can be performed in people who have not had a history of cancer themselves."
 
"The guidelines are steering toward it is better to test as many people as we can and really capture as many of the people that are carrying a gene mutation as possible," Dr. Behr tells KMOX. "That gives us the leverage to study these patients and families to better understand what we can do to help them and reduce the risk of breast cancer in those who do carry these genes."
 
Behr says genes called BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 -- which greatly increase the risk of certain cancers -- are at the heart of these new guidelines.  Those genes, when mutated, cannot repair damaged DNA as well. 

These new guidelines will also help get more breast cancer gene testing covered by insurance.

"The beauty of these guidelines coming out and pushing for more and more testing is that insurance companies are being forced to catch up," said Dr. Behr.  "In the case of a patient with a breast cancer diagnosis, almost all of the insurance companies are now paying for that testing and in some cases if they are not covering it, several of the genetic testing companies themselves are willing to absorb that cost in order to move forward with broadening how many people are tested."

"We should be doing more genetic testing, not less," she said. "I think the positives that come out of genetic testing far outweigh the negatives.  And so I think moving forward, we should continue to hopefully see other organizations and other larger groups broadening their guidelines for genetic testing and really making it a test of inclusivity and not exclusivity."
 
Genetic testing is able to identify dangerous gene mutations and allows affected women to consider steps to lower their risk of breast cancer -- including, in some cases, preventive mastectomies.   Dr. Behr strongly advises women to discuss their test findings with a qualified genetic counselor before deciding on any course of action. 

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