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Public Split on Gene Tests

The US public is divided on its comfort level with and embrace of genetic tests for gauging cancer risk, according to a new survey that finds that roughly a third of people are wary of such predictive tests, while another third would be likely to take aggressive actions based on such test results.

The poll, conducted by the University of Utah's Huntsman Cancer Institute, finds that 34 percent of respondents said they would not seek genetic testing to predict hereditary cancer risk, even if the test was free.

But 35 percent of the poll's respondents say they would not only take the tests, but would be "extremely or very likely to seek aggressive prophylactic or preventive treatment, such as a mastectomy," if their test showed a high predisposition.

Sandra Buys, a University of Utah professor and a research director at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, says the findings suggest that education about genetic testing and better access to them are needed.

"I see patients every week who could have taken steps to reduce their risk if they'd known they'd had a predisposition for a certain type of cancer," she says. "The best treatment for cancer is prevention, of which genetic testing plays an integral role."

Around 40 percent of those who say they would not want genetic testing also say the results of those tests could impact their employment, while nearly 70 percent of the same group report they are worried about effects on their insurance.

The survey also finds that 63 percent of respondents would be very likely to follow recommended screenings if they knew they had a family history of cancer.

Once a diagnosis of an illness is made, however, the respondents say they would be far less concerned about genetic tests, and 85 percent say they would undergo genetic testing to help determine their treatment if they were diagnosed with cancer. Of that group, 72 percent say they would be willing to share their genetic information for research purposes, with the majority of those saying they would feel most comfortable sharing their information with a university hospital or a dedicated cancer hospital.