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Too few cancer patients receive genetic testing—after they’ve been diagnosed


Clinical genetic testing can help individuals understand whether they’re at increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer. But for people who’ve already been diagnosed, a genetic test can provide a trove of insight to help members and their families in very direct, impactful ways.

First and foremost, a genetic test can help a patient with tough treatment decisions. But it can also help their family members better understand their own risk for cancer. For many families, this can be quite significant: A genetic test might propel a family member to begin cancer screenings—covered by insurance—earlier than they would have otherwise.

But, as the CDC synthesized last month, there has been “persistent underutilization and disparities” in BRCA testing in patients who have breast or ovarian cancer. Between 2011 and 2020, only 56% of breast cancer patients, for example, received genetic testing.

This underutilization runs all too rampant, weakening the overall impact genetic testing can have in our collective fight against cancer. Medicare beneficiaries, for example, are much less likely to have had BRCA testing. The same is true for older-aged patients, whose results may offer life-changing information for their families. 

With genetic testing and cancer prevention in general, improving utilization is a matter of delivering services in affordable and accessible ways. HR benefits professionals can make a huge impact on this front. By adding a genetic testing program into a benefits plan, leaders can help patients (and their doctors) bypass the common hold-ups and confusion around insurance. Leaders can make it so any employee diagnosed with cancer knows exactly how and why they will get their genetic test.