GRAPEVINE, TEX. — African American women are almost as likely to pursue genetic testing for breast cancer as are white women, North Carolina researchers report.
“There is a perception in the genetic counseling field that African Americans are less likely to pursue genetic testing when it's offered,” said Lisa Susswein, genetic counselor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “It has been thought that there were cultural barriers and, possibly, the inability to pay that kept African Americans from genetic testing.”
But when women diagnosed with or at high risk for breast cancer were offered a test to detect BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, both African Americans and whites accepted. The results were presented at a meeting sponsored by the American College of Medical Genetics.
The test was offered to women who exceeded a 5%-10% risk of harboring a BRCA mutation as well as to women recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The test was offered to more than 800 women referred to the center.
Of those in the overall high-risk population who were offered the test, 58% of white women and 43% of African American women pursued the test. Among those women recently diagnosed with breast cancer, acceptance was 61% among whites and 50% among African American women, which was not a statistically significant difference.
Many studies have shown African American women are less likely to pursue genetics testing, she said. “This may have been perpetuated by physicians not offering genetics testing, and it's a circle that continues.”
Overall, regardless of race, it is important to do testing in breast cancer patients before the primary surgery so they can be given the opportunity to have one surgery with prophylactic double mastectomies, Ms. Susswein said.
“This could save the patient from multiple surgeries down the line,” she commented.
“This shows that African American women are interested in BRCA testing,” Ms. Susswein said. “We … shouldn't shy away from offering them the test.”