by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted September 11, 2007 in DNA Testing
Myriad Genetics is coming up against criticism for their new advertising campaign promoting the BRACAnalysis direct-to-consumer genetic test for breast and ovarian cancer genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2. The ads are set to run this week in New York, Hartford, Boston and Providence, R.I. Some experts are worried that consumers will be unnecessarily alarmed and that BRCA testing isn’t meant for general population screening, especially because only 10% of women with breast or ovarian cancer are believed to have inherited genetic risk factors. Connecticut attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, has already begun an investigation into Myriad’s claims for the test to assess fairness and accurate representation.
Back in March 2004, the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) ran a workshop scrutinizing direct to consumer advertising of genetic tests with extensive discussion of Myriad’s marketing of BRACAnalysis. Myriad’s pilot advertising trials five years ago showed that commercials increased public interest and sales of the genetic test. At that time it was determined that both consumers and physicians needed more information about the genetics of breast cancer and the utility of the test. Also, despite greater interest in the test, there were not enough appointments available for patients to see a genetic counselor. The average wait to see a genetic counselor at Kaiser was 8 months and 50% of those who were approved for a risk assessment never received a BRCA test.
Clearly, the situation is different today. Companies like the one I work for, DNA Direct, now offer BRCA testing directly to consumers via our website with access to and support from certified genetic counselors. At-risk individuals who decide they need a BRCA test after researching the extensive information on the DNA Direct website can order a test without the wait. And in many cases, their insurance companies will still cover it. Of course, going the direct-to-consumer route also means you can choose not to disclose your BRCA status to your insurance company if you don’t want to.
Here are some of the recommendations that resulted from the NHGRI direct-to-consumer genetic tests and advertising workshop:
How to better convey accurate information to the public, including expected benefits and potential harms of learning genetic information; what to expect from the process itself; criteria or points to address through advertisements.
What messages within the advertisements are remembered/understood by consumers? By providers?
Are appropriate candidates for the genetic test responding to these messages?
What information are consumers looking for from DTC ads in general? Is this different in the realm of genetics?
Are there significant distinctions between the advertising practices and the impact of ads for genetic vs. non-genetic diagnostic tests?
Dr. Gregory C. Critchfield, president of Myriadâ€™s genetic testing business, said in the New York Times:
What we are doing is raising public awareness so they will have a conversation with their health care providers. Those individuals, if they are tested and identified, can avail themselves of means to reduce the risk of cancer.
I know I’m not the only person who thinks that advertising isn’t always evil. Advertising serves to bring new products to our attention and to stimulate interest as well as the desire for more information. In the case of genetics and genetic testing, I would venture to say that all of us need to learn more, not less. And I doubt that most people are so easily persuaded by ads nowadays given our culture of total commercial saturation.
For me, knowing that there are options out there is a good thing. I may not be signing up for genetic testing now, but I still want to be prepared for the future. Hopefully, advertising campaigns that bring genetics into the public eye will prepare more people for the genome revolution that is upon us.
Update: For more on BRCA genetic testing, please see these earlier posts at Eye on DNA.
- What happens after a positive breast and ovarian (BRCA) genetic test?
- Perceptions of Genetic Testing
- BRCA Genetic Testing for Women without a Family History of Breast Cancer
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Just a Little Scared of Genetic Testing...
Flood of DNA...
BRCA Gene Mutation Carriers Worry About Quality of Life...
The United States Genetic Diagnostics Market...
Intermediary Genetic Testing Companies Face Less Regulation...
Eye on DNA Headlines for 30 April 2008...
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