CME – Genetic Risk in Breast Cancer: Addressing Concerns

CME – Genetic Risk in Breast Cancer: Addressing Concerns

Among women with breast cancer, an initial diagnosis can lead to a series of complicated decisions about what options should be considered for treating the disease. Further complicating the decision-making process is that approximately 5% to 10% of patients with breast cancer have genetic mutations that predispose them to developing additional cancers. The discovery of genetic mutations can have important implications for treatment decisions after a new breast cancer diagnosis is made. Genetic test results may lead patients to choose more aggressive treatments or preventive measures. Previous studies have explored potential barriers to genetic testing among breast cancer patients, including affordability and insurance concerns. This research has suggested that there are some misconceptions about genetic testing, which may have an effect on its use. Some patients may wish to gain more information about their genetic risks so that they can learn about interventions to help reduce future risk. “In recent years, there has been increased awareness of genetic risks for women with breast cancer,” explains Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil. She notes that several recent judicial opinions, consumer marketing efforts, and celebrity reports about breast cancer have made the general public more aware that genetic testing is available.   Evaluating Preferences & Experiences A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology by Dr. Jagsi and colleagues was conducted to address gaps in knowledge regarding the desire for and receipt of genetic testing in patients with breast cancer. Particular attention was paid to racial and ethnic minorities and those who were not deemed to be at high risk. The authors also examined if participants had unmet needs for discussing genetic...
Genetic Risk in Breast Cancer: Addressing Concerns

Genetic Risk in Breast Cancer: Addressing Concerns

Among women with breast cancer, an initial diagnosis can lead to a series of complicated decisions about what options should be considered for treating the disease. Further complicating the decision-making process is that approximately 5% to 10% of patients with breast cancer have genetic mutations that predispose them to developing additional cancers. The discovery of genetic mutations can have important implications for treatment decisions after a new breast cancer diagnosis is made. Genetic test results may lead patients to choose more aggressive treatments or preventive measures. Previous studies have explored potential barriers to genetic testing among breast cancer patients, including affordability and insurance concerns. This research has suggested that there are some misconceptions about genetic testing, which may have an effect on its use. Some patients may wish to gain more information about their genetic risks so that they can learn about interventions to help reduce future risk. “In recent years, there has been increased awareness of genetic risks for women with breast cancer,” explains Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil. She notes that several recent judicial opinions, consumer marketing efforts, and celebrity reports about breast cancer have made the general public more aware that genetic testing is available.   Evaluating Preferences & Experiences A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology by Dr. Jagsi and colleagues was conducted to address gaps in knowledge regarding the desire for and receipt of genetic testing in patients with breast cancer. Particular attention was paid to racial and ethnic minorities and those who were not deemed to be at high risk. The authors also examined if participants had unmet needs for discussing genetic...
Assessing the Surgical Care of Breast Cancer

Assessing the Surgical Care of Breast Cancer

Clinical trials have shown that survival rates appear to be similar for patients with early-stage breast cancer who are treated with breast-conserving surgery and radiation or with mastectomy. “However, recent studies have indicated that the use of mastectomy is increasing, particularly bilateral mastectomy, among women in the United States with breast cancer,” says Allison W. Kurian, MD, MSc. Typically, bilateral mastectomy is considered both a treatment for the affected breast and a prevention measure for the contralateral breast. Bilateral mastectomy is increasingly being used to treat unilateral breast cancer despite the absence of evidence showing that it offers a survival benefit to the average woman with breast cancer. Bilateral mastectomy has been shown to be an effective secondary prevention strategy for high-risk women with BRCA1/2 mutations, but the procedure may also have detrimental effects. These include higher risks for complications, increased costs, and a negative impact on body image and sexual function. “We need a better understanding of the use of bilateral mastectomy and outcomes associated with its use to improve cancer care,” Dr. Kurian says. A Comprehensive Analysis In a study published in JAMA, Dr. Kurian, Scarlett Gomez, PhD, and colleagues compared the use of bilateral mastectomy, breast-conserving therapy (lumpectomy) with radiation, and unilateral mastectomy and the mortality associated with these procedures. The goals were to determine if there were particular types of patients who were likely to receive a bilateral mastectomy and find out if there were relative differences in mortality among the three procedures. “We could address these questions because we used data from the California Cancer Registry, which covers almost all women diagnosed with breast...
A Conservative Approach to Lymph Node Removal

A Conservative Approach to Lymph Node Removal

Until recently, guidelines recommended complete axillary node dissection in women with breast cancer for whom their sentinel node biopsy was positive. However, patients who undergo this procedure routinely experience complications. The introduction of sentinel lymph node biopsy in the 1990s included the benefit of avoiding complete axillary node dissection if two or three sentinel nodes tested negative for cancer, thus reducing morbidity. However, complete axillary node dissection was still used in patients with positive sentinel nodes. The recently completed American College of Surgeons Oncology Group Z0011 (Z-11) trial indicated that women with positive sentinel nodes scheduled for lumpectomy and whole-breast radiation could safely avoid complete axillary lymph node dissection. A Need for Clarity Few studies have compared the risks and benefits of the various axillary interventions for patients with breast cancer. To address this research gap, Roshni Rao, MD, and colleagues performed a systematic review of 17 studies. The analysis, published in JAMA, reviewed studies of women with breast cancer who mostly had benign axilla and received surgical treatment that ranged from removal of one lymph node to removal of all axillary lymph nodes. Outcomes of these procedures were compared with each other as well as with nonsurgical interventions, such as radiation. Women with no suspicious, palpable axillary nodes who underwent breast-conserving therapy did not experience a benefit with complete axillary node dissection when compared with sentinel node biopsy alone. Complete axillary node dissection was associated with a 1% to 3% reduction in axillary lymph node metastases recurrence but was also associated with a 14% risk of lymphedema. Complete axillary lymph node dissection was well suited for patients with...
Guiding Follow-Up Care in Breast Cancer

Guiding Follow-Up Care in Breast Cancer

In 2006, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) issued practice guidelines on the follow-up and management of patients with breast cancer who have completed primary therapy with curative intent. Since that time, ASCO completed a 6-year, systematic review and analysis of 14 publications in an effort to update these guidelines. ASCO reissued the recommendations from 2006 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and came to the conclusion that no revisions to the existing recommendation were warranted. “An important reason behind re-issuing the guidelines is that physicians and patients aren’t always following the recommendations,” explains Thomas J. Smith, MD, a member of the ASCO writing committee for the guidelines. “It has been estimated that more than $1 billion is spent each year on unnecessary breast cancer follow-up care. By re-issuing the guidelines, it’s hoped that clinicians will make greater efforts to adhere to these recommendations.” Assessing Surveillance Research indicates that routine surveillance with PET, CAT, and bone scans—in addition to routine blood tests—is unwarranted in asymptomatic patients with breast cancer. “Physicians tend to deny that they’re ordering these tests, but studies suggest that, in actuality, many clinicians are ordering these diagnostics,” says Dr. Smith. “However, there are no data to date that suggest these tests are beneficial in the management of asymptomatic patients.” Meanwhile, Dr. Smith says other data suggest that patients and physicians do not always obtain tests that are recommended in the guidelines. “Research clearly indicates that patients should undergo a mammogram on the opposite side after definitive surgery for one breast cancer,” he says. “However, study after study has shown that many patients don’t have a...
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