Genetic tests for breast cancer can provide peace of mind — but they're not foolproof

Genetic tests can provide important medical information and help patients choose appropriate treatments for breast cancer, but some genetic tests provide no significant information, leaving patients confused and anxious, according to an article from Kaiser Health News published by CBS News.

Genetic tests for breast cancer, like ones that test for BRCA mutations, can provide important information to patients about the chances of developing breast cancer and appropriate forms of treatment. For example, a high risk of recurrence or new breast cancer could persuade some patients to opt for a double mastectomy.

However, some results can be confusing to patients newly diagnosed as they confront the expense of the test as well as the information. Some genetic tests cannot be interpreted with any scientific certainty, according to the article.

Some experts are concerned widespread testing could cause more anxiety with no clear impact and lead to increased costs for healthcare.

"Things get sloppier and sloppier when you look at other genes," Steven Katz, MD, a professor of medicine and health management and policy at the Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan, said. "The risks tend to be lower for different cancers, and less certain and more variable. You might walk away wondering, 'Why'd I have to know that?'"

Experts suggest the first step is to ensure the small group of people who would clearly benefit receive the genetic tests. Between 2005 and 2015, only 15 percent of breast cancer patients who met select National Comprehensive Cancer Network testing guidelines for inherited breast cancer received genetic testing.

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