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Survey Suggests Cancer Patients Need Genetic Test Info

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) –There is a disconnect between the knowledge healthcare professionals have about genetic mutation testing for cancer treatment and the awareness of their cancer patients about these tests, according to new survey data released by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals.

Recent surveys of oncologists, nurses, and lung cancer patients suggest that while a large number of physicians and nurses say they discuss gene tests with their patients, only a small number of patients have much awareness or knowledge of such testing options.

The surveys, conducted by Harris Interactive and involving Boehringer Ingelheim, the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC), ONS:Edge, and the National Lung Cancer Partnership (NLCP), involved 95 community oncologists, 522 oncology nurses, and 436 lung cancer patients spread across the US who were questioned last month.

The studies showed that while 94 percent of the oncologists said that they discuss genetic testing with their patients, only 17 percent of the lung cancer patients were aware of genetic mutation testing. Oncology nurses were less likely to discuss genetic mutation tests with their patients — only 56 percent of them reported doing so — largely because they said they lack the knowledge to discuss it (56 percent) or because they did not have the proper resources to provide to patients (33 percent).

That lack of awareness of the availability of new genetic tests highlights a need for efforts to get information out not only to doctors, but to nurses and patients, Boehringer Ingelheim advised.

"Knowledge of genetic mutation testing among the medical and patient communities will help ensure that patients are receiving the most appropriate care as early as possible," Christopher Corsico, senior VP, Medicine and Regulatory, at Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, said in a statement.

The surveys also found that while 88 percent of oncologists said they discuss genetic mutation testing with their peers at tumor boards, while 94 percent spoke about such tests with their patients. Eight-nine percent of the oncologist said that their discussions with patients were driven by their desire to have their patients informed about all aspects of their care.

"Community oncologists treat an estimated 60 percent of cancer patients nationwide, but as these results show, cost challenges, likely related to reimbursement, as well as issues including lack of tissue and multiple labs involved in testing create structural barriers to use of genetic mutation testing and establishing a treatment plan based on those results," explained Christian Downs , ACCC's executive director.

More than half of the oncology nurses surveyed (56 percent) said they discuss genetic mutation testing, just under half (46 percent) discussed personalized medicine, and 59 percent said that their patients were very receptive or receptive to such tests.

However, 69 percent of the nurses said that they did not feel fully comfortable on this subject because they lacked the knowledge to discuss the tests or do not have the proper resources.

"Oncology nurses are pivotal in educating patients about test results and treatment options," ONS:Edge Project Manager Keightley Amen said. "But as these survey results show, nurses need deeper knowledge and better tools to communicate effectively with cancer patients about this relatively new concept in their care."

The survey also found that only 8 to 10 percent of lung cancer patients were aware of each of the three primary mutations involved in the disease, while 16 percent said that their healthcare professionals had discussed these mutations with them, and only 12 percent said that they had a tumor tested for a genetic mutation, with 10 percent saying that they had requested a genetic mutation test for their cancer.

"Approaches to cancer treatment are changing rapidly, and it is important for patients to be educated and feel empowered when interacting with their healthcare team," added Regina Vidaver , National Lung Cancer Partnership's executive director. "The more patients, physicians and nurses know about genetic mutation testing, the easier it will be to properly diagnose and establish a treatment plan for the patient."

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