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Susan T. Vadaparampil PhD, Gwendolyn P. Quinn PhD, Cheryl A. Miree MS, Jennifer Brzosowicz MS, Bradford Carter MD, Christine Laronga MD
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The oncology care setting represents an important opportunity to identify and refer women at increased risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. However, little is known about the effectiveness of provider approaches to inform patients of hereditary cancer risk or patient uptake of genetic counseling (GC). This qualitative study examined the impact of a surgeon referral letter on recently diagnosed breast cancer patients’ uptake of BRCA GC.
Qualitative open-ended, in-depth interviews were conducted with 26 high-risk breast cancer patients sent a referral letter for BRCA GC by their surgeon. Data were analyzed by a grounded theory approach.
Most women (~80%) recalled receiving the letter, and 62% of all (n = 16) women pursued GC. Recall of the letter did not seem to be associated with uptake of GC (P = .49, Fisher’s exact test). The results highlight key areas for improvement that may help increase the impact of the letter. Half of the women in this sample believed that the letter was sent to all breast cancer patients, rather than those with specific risk factors. Few women mentioned any implications for the information obtained during GC or testing regarding their current breast cancer diagnosis or treatment. Of the women who did not attend, many perceived that dealing with the GC and testing process in the midst of a cancer diagnosis and treatment was overwhelming. Among the women who had chosen not to attend GC, most stated they would reconsider after completing their treatment.
Patient recall of a surgeon referral letter does not seem to increase the number of high-risk women who attend GC after a breast cancer diagnosis. The letter approach in its current format does not seem to be a wholly effective means of communicating with some patients who may be overwhelmed by their cancer diagnosis or unaware that GC and testing may have implications for their current treatment decisions, possibly resulting in a missed opportunity to engage in informed decision making.
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