Discovering tools for genetic testing – and teaching others to use them

March 22, 2015 | by Nicole White

The understanding of the relationship between genetics and cancer risk continues to grow, with more genetic testing than ever before available to patients.

 

genetic testing City of Hope leaders have created a program to teach clinicians nationwide and worldwide how to use available genetic testing tools.

 

However, the adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing is applicable: Without context for what a test result means, and without meaningful guidance from genetic counselors, genetic tests don’t do patients much good.

Case in point: In addition to those better-known mutations contributing to breast cancer, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, researchers have identified about 20 other genes that may be implicated in causing cancer, many of them rare or having more discreet effects. People who carry those other mutations – and who test negative for the BRCA mutations – may face a higher risk than they realize.

The doctors and counselors who deal with patients every day need training in order to help as many people as possible benefit from such knowledge and from today's scientific advances. Scientists, clinicians and genetic experts at City of Hope are committed to bridging the gap between the technology that’s available and the number of professionals who know how to use and interpret the results of that technology.

Led by Jeffrey Weitzel, M.D.,  director of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics, City of Hope recently hosted a cancer genetics and genomics conference, "From Evidence to Action: Next-Generation Approaches to Cancer Risk Assessment and Research." Nearly 200 physicians and clinicians from across the nation and abroad attended the conference. {C}

Many were members of City of Hope’s growing Clinical Cancer Genetics Community of Practice. This innovative program was created specifically to address the need for interdisciplinary cancer genetics and genomics training and practice-based support. Already, more than 500 health care workers are part of the community of practice, including members in 47 states and 15 countries.

“Here’s the snapshot: Clinicians are trying to use this technology and they’re desperately in need of some background, learning and teaching about how to do this,” Weitzel said, referring to the need to help clinicians use all the resources available to them. “We’re very rapidly being thrust into having these tools, but not really knowing how to use them effectively.”

Weitzel has also been instrumental in building genetic testing programs in South America and Central America. One tool he has developed is a testing panel geared toward Hispanic women, one that tests only for those genetic mutations most common in this population of women. By testing for fewer, but specific, mutations, the test is more cost effective than a full panel, while still being successful in identifying mutations that contribute to cancer risk.

In findings reported in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society, researchers stated that they were able to detect 68 percent of all BRCA mutations in a recent study's participants by using the panel, called HISPANEL. Further, the cost of testing amounted to only 2 percent of the cost of testing for all BRCA mutations.

For Weitzel and his team, finding new mutations to predict cancer risk isn’t enough. They’re also teaching their colleagues around the world how to use these tools.

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Learn more about the Clinical Cancer Genetics Program at City of Hope.

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Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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