A Better Breast Cancer Dialogue
Advocacy Dr. Sherri Bale takes stock of the ways breast cancer research has evolved to put increasingly better-informed patients first.
Mediaplanet: What's an ongoing or recent diagnostics improvement you've seen enhance patient experience?
Sherri Bale: With the launch of multi-gene cancer panels, patients now have access to genetic testing for more than 20 genes associated with an increased risk to develop cancer at nearly the same cost as the two genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) previously offered. We provide the results of complex genetic tests to the physicians and patients faster than before, which allows them to make timely decisions about medical care.
We also provide patient-friendly information about the tests performed and what the test result means. Genetic Counselors on staff are available to answer questions the patient or physician may have about the results and their options.
MP: Where are innovations in breast cancer care empowering the patients themselves?
SB: Laboratories react very quickly, but responsibly, to the new technical innovations with genetic testing, clinical discoveries and options for enrollment in research studies, which empowers the patient with information they didn’t have access to previously.
"With the increased awareness about cancer, patients feel that knowledge is power to make appropriate choices to manage and prevent cancer."
Patients are also becoming increasingly proactive in researching if they are at risk of developing cancer based on their personal and family medical histories. There are few electronic tools available for patients to input their family information to assess if they should be seeing their healthcare provider for discussing genetic testing options.
MP: Are patients any more proactive now when it comes to testing precautions?
SB: They most certainly are, and this has been for a number of reasons, which include the scientific advances we’ve made, the celebrities like Angelina Jolie going public and more people being able to get tested as a result of the Affordable Care Act. As a result, there is so much awareness and information available in print and online now—about genetics and genetic testing, about cancer diagnosis and treatment options. It is hard to avoid being exposed to the latest information.
With the increased awareness about cancer, patients feel that knowledge is power to make appropriate choices to manage and prevent cancer. They are coming to their doctors with very specific and intelligent questions.
MP: What are the obstacles that come between new technologies and their implementation into the actual diagnostic testing?
SB: There are three common obstacles that we see and a fourth one that is relatively new. The first is educating the physicians about the availability of new genetic tests and how they can help their patients. Second is having enough Genetic Counselors available to work with the patients and their families to understand test results, and third, getting the tests paid for by insurance companies so many more patients can benefit from the testing and the incredible advances which have been made in both predicting and treating specific diseases.
The fourth obstacle is one many labs are working to prevent, and that is the over regulation of new tests which has the potential to drive up costs and slow down innovation that benefits patients.