A genomic test (also called a genomic assay) analyzes the activity of a group of genes that are linked to the risk of early-stage, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer coming back (recurrence). A genomic test can help a woman and her doctor figure out her individual risk of recurrence and if she's likely to benefit from chemotherapy to reduce the risk of recurrence. There are several genomic tests for breast cancer, including Oncotype DX and MammaPrint.
A small study found that about 33% of the women who had genomic testing said they didn't really understand the test results. It's important to know that many women didn't understand the results because doctors are ordering more genomic tests to help make treatment decisions for many women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.
The researchers looked at the medical records of 77 women diagnosed with early-stage, hormone-receptor-positive early-stage breast cancer between 2004 and 2009. All the women had Oncotype DX testing to help plan treatment:
- 50% of the women's Oncotype DX test results predicted low risk of recurrence
- 37% of the women's Oncotype DX test results predicted intermediate risk of recurrence
The researchers found many positive results:
- 71% of the women accurately remembered the recurrence risk predicted by the test results
- 95% of the women said the test results helped them understand the benefits of various treatment options
- 71% of the women believed the test results were accurate
- 76% of the women said the test was useful because it could tell them if they were at high risk of recurrence
- 96% of the women would have genomic testing again
- 95% of the women would recommend genomic testing to other women in the same situation
But some results weren't as positive:
- 33% of the women said they didn't understand what they were told about their test results
- 25% of the women said they were anxious about the results after they were told about them
These findings suggest that doctors might want to make sure their patients completely understand genomic test results. Doctors also should clear up any confusion and ease any anxiety patients might have about the results, particularly if the results predict a high recurrence risk.
If you've been diagnosed with early-stage, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer, you and your doctor may decide that genomic testing is appropriate for your situation. The genomic test results are reported separately from your pathology report. The genomic test results predict the risk of the cancer coming back based on selected gene activity in breast cancer cells. Your doctor will use the genomic test results to help decide if you would benefit from chemotherapy to reduce the risk of recurrence.
When your doctor goes over your genomic test results with you, be sure you clearly understand all the results and how the information will be used to guide your treatment plan. If you're not sure you understand your results or if the results make you anxious, be sure to ask your doctor to go over the information again and address anything you're confused or worried about.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 8, 2010, and has been updated. Since this research was published, new genomic tests have come to market. For the most up-to-date information, visit the Breastcancer.org Breast Cancer Tests page.