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March 2014 Clinical Laboratory News: Volume 40, Number 3


Public Still Wary of Genetic Cancer Testing


Genetic testing plays an integral role in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers caused by inherited mutations. However, 34% of the respondents to a new national poll said they would not seek genetic testing to predict their likelihood of developing a hereditary cancer—even if cost were not an issue.

Conducted by the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute, the poll sought to measure public perception about cancer prevention, treatment, and research by surveying 1,202 adults nationwide between the ages of 25–70. One of its key findings was that mistaken beliefs about genetic screening are the main reason why people would choose to forego testing.

Of the respondents who said they would not seek testing, nearly 40% reported concerns that the results would reduce opportunities for employment, while 69% feared the results would interfere with their ability to get insurance, even though current laws prohibit such discrimination.

The survey also shows that only 35% of respondents would be extremely or very likely to seek aggressive prophylactic or preventive treatment, such as a mastectomy, if they had a family history of cancer and genetic testing indicated a genetic predisposition to cancer.

Public perception of genetic cancer screening is not entirely negative, though. On the upside, 63% of respondents reported being extremely or very likely to follow all recommended screenings if there was a history of cancer in their family. Additionally, 85% stated that, if diagnosed with cancer, they would undergo genetic testing if it could help determine the most effective course of treatment.

Only 8% of respondents had actually had a genetic test, though. In light of the low number of individuals who have undergone genetic testing as well as the widespread concerns about it, the survey authors concluded that significant work is still needed to educate the public about the importance of genetic testing, the information it provides, and who should seek it.

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