Newswise — Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have surveyed cancer doctors to identify differences in physician attitudes and beliefs that may contribute to a gap in referrals to genetic counseling and testing between Black women and white women with breast cancer.
The breast cancer mortality rate is 41% higher for Black women than white women. Part of the reason for that difference may be that white women are almost five times more likely than Black women to be referred for genetic counseling and testing, suggesting racial disparities in how some doctors refer patients for those services.
Genetic counseling and testing can identify those at high risk for developing breast cancer. It also can be used to personalize cancer prevention for individual patients, and it can guide treatment in those who have hereditary breast cancer caused by gene mutations. Hereditary forms of breast cancer — which account for 5% to 10% of breast cancer cases — affect Black and white women at about the same rates.
The new findings, published Oct. 18 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, revealed that physicians believe Black women experience more barriers to genetic counseling and testing. The doctors’ self-reported practices with regard to counseling and testing for Black women also indicated that many believed Black women would be less likely to comply with recommendations for genetic counseling and testing.
“For breast cancer patients with genetic mutations, the treatment is different; the surgical options are different; the screening and surveillance going forward is very different — so it’s important to identify those patients through genetic counseling and testing services,” said first author Foluso O. Ademuyiwa, MD, an associate professor of medical oncology. “We wanted to learn why Black women are not being referred for this type of care as frequently. We hope these findings might help change that trajectory. We hope that Black women won’t continue to be less likely to receive information and referrals that may help save their lives and even the lives of some of their family members.”