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Aetna Funds BRCA Gene Test Study

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Life and health insurance firm Aetna will fund a collaborative effort involving Georgetown University, the University of South Florida, and the American Cancer Society that will study how genetic tests for breast cancer are used for certain groups of women, and whether some women are getting tested unnecessarily while others lack access to such services.

The two-year collaboration, which will be funded by Aetna, will study patterns of how genetic tests for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are being used in community healthcare environments and if there are disparities in the use of tests among different socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic groups. Aetna said yesterday.

In the study, USF, Georgetown, and ACS will analyze de-identified data on roughly 13,000 Aetna members who receive BRCA testing and they will examine the use of risk-reduction and screening services by patients after they have been tested.

"Even the most brilliant medical science is flawed when not used appropriately," explained Ann Beal, president of the Aetna Foundation, which is funding the study, in a statement. "In the case of BRCA testing, there is valid concern that some women are receiving this test unnecessarily, while others, particularly among racial and ethnic minorities, as well as poorer women, should be receiving these critical tests and are not."

"To date, there has been no national study of BRCA testing in the community settings where most people receive their care," USF Professor of Genetics and lead investigator on the study Rebecca Sutphen said.

"We need to ask, who is being tested? Do they have access to the right experts and the right information to allow them to make informed decisions about testing? What choices are they being given and what options are they choosing to manage their cancer risk? The answers to these questions have tremendous public health impact," said Sutphen.

Joanne Armstrong, Aetna's senior medical director and head of Women's Health, said that health plan data is "a rich source of information that can be used to develop evidence about the effectiveness of clinical care."

She added that the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "have encouraged and promoted the use of health plan data to better understand the effectiveness of care and have specifically highlighted inherited risk for breast and ovarian cancer as a high priority for research."

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