Adverse Events in Genetic Testing: The Fourth Case Series

Cancer J. Jul/Aug 2019;25(4):231-236. doi: 10.1097/PPO.0000000000000391.

Abstract

Purpose: In this ongoing national case series, we document 25 new genetic testing cases in which tests were recommended, ordered, interpreted, or used incorrectly.

Methods: An invitation to submit cases of adverse events in genetic testing was issued to the general National Society of Genetic Counselors Listserv, the National Society of Genetic Counselors Cancer Special Interest Group members, private genetic counselor laboratory groups, and via social media platforms (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). Examples highlighted in the invitation included errors in ordering, counseling, and/or interpretation of genetic testing and did not limit submissions to cases involving genetic testing for hereditary cancer predisposition. Clinical documentation, including pedigree, was requested. Twenty-six cases were accepted, and a thematic analysis was performed. Submitters were asked to approve the representation of their cases before manuscript submission.

Results: All submitted cases took place in the United States and were from cancer, pediatric, preconception, and general adult settings and involved both medical-grade and direct-to-consumer genetic testing with raw data analysis. In 8 cases, providers ordered the wrong genetic test. In 2 cases, multiple errors were made when genetic testing was ordered. In 3 cases, patients received incorrect information from providers because genetic test results were misinterpreted or because of limitations in the provider's knowledge of genetics. In 3 cases, pathogenic genetic variants identified were incorrectly assumed to completely explain the suspicious family histories of cancer. In 2 cases, patients received inadequate or no information with respect to genetic test results. In 2 cases, result interpretation/documentation by the testing laboratories was erroneous. In 2 cases, genetic counselors reinterpreted the results of people who had undergone direct-to-consumer genetic testing and/or clarifying medical-grade testing was ordered.

Discussion: As genetic testing continues to become more common and complex, it is clear that we must ensure that appropriate testing is ordered and that results are interpreted and used correctly. Access to certified genetic counselors continues to be an issue for some because of workforce limitations. Potential solutions involve action on multiple fronts: new genetic counseling delivery models, expanding the genetic counseling workforce, improving genetics and genomics education of nongenetics health care professionals, addressing health care policy barriers, and more. Genetic counselors have also positioned themselves in new roles to help patients and consumers as well as health care providers, systems, and payers adapt to new genetic testing technologies and models. The work to be done is significant, but so are the consequences of errors in genetic testing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnostic Errors
  • Genetic Counseling / methods
  • Genetic Counseling / standards
  • Genetic Testing / methods
  • Genetic Testing / standards*
  • Humans
  • Medical Errors
  • Medical Overuse
  • United States