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Surgeons Recommend Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer Patients

Posted: February 22, 2019

NorthBay Healthcare Genetics Counselor Karen Vikstrom is cheering on a recent decision by the American Society of Breast Surgeons (ASBrS), which is calling for an increased use of genetic testing for those diagnosed with breast cancer and their relatives who might be at risk.

"Genetic testing is helpful in creating a personalized treatment plan for women with breast cancer,” noted Karen. “Typically, it is offered to people who meet testing criteria, but the trend is to start offering it to all patients, and ASBrS is the first to come out and recommend this.”

The new recommendations follow a study that found a similar rate of genetic mutations in breast cancer patients who did not qualify for testing under previous criteria and those who did.

The study’s co-author, Dr. Peter Beitsch, said the society has "embraced" his research "and is rewriting their genetic testing statement to alert their members that genetic testing should be made available to all their breast cancer patients."

The new guidelines also recommend re-evaluating breast cancer patients who underwent genetic tests in the past to check for newly identified breast cancer-linked genes.

So much has changed in the past 20 years since the first guidelines were published by the National Comprehensive Cancer Center (NCCN). Back then it cost about $5,000 for a patient to be tested, and that was for only two genes: BRCA1 and BRCA 2. Now there are dozens of genes linked to breast and other cancers, all of which can be tested for as low as $200.

Because the guidelines became so complex, disease-causing mutations went undetected in many cases, said Dr. Beitsch.

“NorthBay Cancer Center has a comprehensive genetic counseling and testing program, where women can learn about their options and get tested the same day using a saliva collection kit, should they decide they would benefit from knowing their genetic status.

“As of now, some insurance companies will not pay unless a woman meets NCCN testing criteria,” Vikstrom explained. “At NorthBay Healthcare, if a patient does not meet criteria, they have the option to pay out-of-pocket. Testing can be done for a fairly low cost, which may give many families peace of mind.”