Retrospective assessment of barriers and access to genetic services for hereditary cancer syndromes in an integrated health care delivery system

Hered Cancer Clin Pract. 2022 Feb 10;20(1):7. doi: 10.1186/s13053-022-00213-5.


Background: A critical step in access to genetic testing for hereditary cancer syndromes is referral for genetic counseling to assess personal and family risk. Individuals meeting testing guidelines have the greatest need to be evaluated. However, referrals to genetics are underutilized in US patients with hereditary cancer syndromes, especially within traditionally underserved populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, low-income, and non-English speaking patients.

Methods: We studied existing processes for referral to genetic evaluation and testing for hereditary cancer risk to identify areas of potential improvement in delivering these services, especially for traditionally underserved patients. We conducted a retrospective review of 820 referrals to the Kaiser Permanente Northwest (KPNW) genetics department containing diagnosis codes for hereditary cancer risk. We classified referrals as high- or low-quality based on whether sufficient information was provided to determine if patients met national practice guidelines for testing. Through chart abstraction, we also assessed consistency with practice guidelines, whether the referral resulted in a visit to the genetics department for evaluation, and clinical characteristics of patients receiving genetic testing.

Results: Most referrals (n = 514, 63%) contained sufficient information to assess the appropriateness of referral; of those, 92% met practice guidelines for genetic testing. Half of referred patients (50%) were not offered genetic evaluation; only 31% received genetic testing. We identified several barriers to receiving genetic evaluation and testing, the biggest barrier being completion of a family history form sent to patients following the referral. Those with a referral consistent with testing guidelines, were more likely to receive genetic testing than those without (39% vs. 29%, respectively; p = 0.0058). Traditionally underserved patients were underrepresented in those receiving genetic evaluation and testing relative to the overall adult KPNW population.

Conclusions: Process improvements are needed to increase access to genetic services to diagnose hereditary cancer syndromes prior to development of cancer.

Keywords: Genetic evaluation; Genetic referrals; Genetic testing; Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer; Lynch syndrome.