OCT 02, 2018 5:43 AM PDT

Many Patients Are Unaware of Increased Cancer Risk

Just as recently as a few decades ago, many common health screenings were not readily available. Mammography, for breast cancer detection, wasn't a regular part of medical exams until the mid-1970's when the American Cancer Society advocated for their use. Other cancer screenings were not routine either, like a colonoscopy for rectal cancer. It's been proven time and again in research that early detection in many tumors can produce better outcomes for patients, and lower the deaths from many forms of cancer.

Some patients are at a higher risk for certain cancers based on their genetics. Patients who carry a BRAC1 or BRAC2 genetic mutation are at a much higher risk of developing breast, ovarian, prostate and pancreatic cancer, but an astounding 80% of these patients had no idea of their increased risk. These were not patients with low access to health care or insurance. They were patients who had regular interaction with the health care system, in hospitals, clinics, and doctors office, thousands of patients had no idea their risk was higher than normal

Most patients find out they have a genetic abnormality when a family member is diagnosed with cancer. Testing is commonly offered to family relations of patients who have the disease. If someone knows they have a genetic risk factor, they can make decisions about proactive measures like hysterectomy, mastectomy and increased the frequency of screenings.

Michael Murray, professor of genetics at Yale School of Medicine is the senior author on the paper. He stated, "As a colleague said, it usually takes a tragedy for people to get tested. "Our reliance on a documented personal or family history as a trigger to offer testing is not working. Hopefully one day, we can change that with effective DNA-based screening for everyone."

The study was conducted at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville PA. The mean age of subjects in the study was 60 years. The numbers showed that 267 of those participants who were screened had a mutation of a BRCA gene, which is called a "risk variant" since it translates to an increased risk for cancer. Of these 267 patients, only 18% were aware that they carried the risk variant. That means that 82% of those who have a higher likelihood of getting cancer have no idea about a crucial part of their health. For reference, 16.8% of patients in the study who tested BRCA-positive developed a BRCA related cancer. There were a few deaths during the study period, and 47.8% of those deaths were from BRCA-related cancers.

While medical advances in treating disease mean fewer deaths, prevention is also an essential part of health care. Genetic screening is not yet routine, but Dr. Murray explained why it should be, stating, "Once risk is identified, we can apply proven tools for early diagnosis and prevention and we believe that the 31% difference in cancer incidence in these two groups is a window into an opportunity to decrease cancer and cancer deaths through genomic screening approaches." See the video below for more information.

Sources: Yale News, JAMA Network Open, Consumer Affairs

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
DEC 20, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
A Repurposed Drug Can Treat a Genetic Disorder
DEC 20, 2020
A Repurposed Drug Can Treat a Genetic Disorder
Some researchers have sought to treat genetic diseases by correcting the mutation. But it may be possible to use another ...
DEC 22, 2020
Health & Medicine
Cannabis Use May Help People on an Opioid Detox Program Stay on Track
DEC 22, 2020
Cannabis Use May Help People on an Opioid Detox Program Stay on Track
New research suggests that cannabis use by people being treated for opioid addiction might improve outcomes and reduce t ...
JAN 01, 2021
Microbiology
A New Type of Antibiotics Help the Immune System Fight Pathogens
JAN 01, 2021
A New Type of Antibiotics Help the Immune System Fight Pathogens
Reporting in Nature, scientists have identified a new group of compounds that may help us get out of the antibiotic-resi ...
JAN 04, 2021
Cannabis Sciences
How Does Cannabis Affect the Liver?
JAN 04, 2021
How Does Cannabis Affect the Liver?
As research on cannabis emerges, what we know about how it interacts with the liver is becoming more and more complex. A ...
JAN 20, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Mutations in One Gene Can Lead to Cancer in Different Ways
JAN 20, 2021
Mutations in One Gene Can Lead to Cancer in Different Ways
Cancer and genetics are linked; for example, when a cell's genome accumulates mutations it can begin to divide uncon ...
JAN 24, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
A Protein That Restores Muscle Function and Doubles Capacity in Aged Mice
JAN 24, 2021
A Protein That Restores Muscle Function and Doubles Capacity in Aged Mice
Scientists have identified a hormone that is generated during exercise, and they determined that when mice are treated w ...
Loading Comments...