French physicians' knowledge about hereditary breast/ovarian cancer: the need for continuing vocational training in genetics

Community Genet. 1999;2(4):165-72. doi: 10.1159/000016207.


Objectives: The aim of this study was to determine what medical specialists knew about recent findings in the genetics of breast/ovarian cancer, according to their speciality and the methods they used to keep themselves up to date.

Methods: A national random sample of 1,169 surgeons and gynaeco-obstetricians was surveyed using a mailed questionnaire, to which 700 of those contacted responded (60%).

Results: Two years after it had been identified, BRCA1 was known by only 54% of the practitioners, whereas BRCA2 was known by 49.1% 1 year after it was first identified. The lifetime breast cancer risk of women in the general population was estimated by 37.6% of the participants to be between 6 and 10%, and 35.7% rated the penetrance of a breast cancer mutated gene at between 70 and 90%. After multivariate adjustment, the overall score for knowledge of hereditary breast/ovarian cancer was mainly determined as follows: by the speciality (p < 0.001), since the gynaeco-obstetricians scored the highest and the general surgeons the lowest; by the size of practice (p < 0.001), since a larger practice was associated with a higher score, and by whether or not the participants were accustomed to reading the international literature (p < 0.01).

Conclusions: These results show the need for physicians who are not geneticists to acquire further knowledge about cancer genetics. We discuss the role of international reviews in communicating the latest knowledge available in genetics to specialists working in other medical fields.