This nationwide study assessed the impact of nationally agreed cancer genetics guidelines on use of BRCA1/2 germline testing, risk management advice given by health professionals to women with pathogenic BRCA1/2 variants and uptake of such advice by patients.
Clinic files of 883 women who had initial proband screens for BRCA1/2 pathogenic variants at 12 familial cancer clinics between July 2008-July 2009 (i.e. before guideline release), July 2010-July 2011 and July 2012-July 2013 (both after guideline release) were audited to determine reason given for genetic testing. Separately, the clinic files of 599 female carriers without a personal history of breast/ovarian cancer who underwent BRCA1/2 predictive genetic testing and received their results pre- and post-guideline were audited to ascertain the risk management advice given by health professionals. Carriers included in this audit were invited to participate in a telephone interview to assess uptake of advice, and 329 agreed to participate.
There were no significant changes in the percentages of tested patients meeting at least one published indication for genetic testing – 79, 77 and 78% of files met criteria before guideline, and two-, and four-years post-guideline, respectively (χ = 0.25, p = 0.88). Rates of documentation of post-test risk management advice as per guidelines increased significantly from pre- to post-guideline for 6/9 risk management strategies. The strategies with the highest compliance amongst carriers or awareness post-release of guidelines were annual magnetic resonance imaging plus mammography in women 30-50 years (97%) and annual mammography in women > 50 years (92%). Of women aged over 40 years, 41% had a risk-reducing bilateral mastectomy. Amongst women aged > 40 years, 75% had a risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy. Amongst women who had not had a risk-reducing bilateral mastectomy, only 6% took risk-reducing medication. Fear of side-effects was cited as the main reasons for not taking these medicines by 73% of women.
Guidelines did not change the percentages of tested patients meeting genetic testing criteria but improved documentation of risk management advice by health professionals. Effective approaches to enhance compliance with guidelines are needed to improve risk management and quality of care.