Background: With the identification of the breast cancer susceptibility genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, clinical testing for detection of the mutated genes may be available in the near future. Primary care physicians increasingly serve as full-service providers and gatekeepers and must be aware of presymptomatic testing in order to counsel their patients appropriately. To address this educational need, a new module was incorporated into the genetics course taken by first-year medical students at the Medical College of Virginia.
Methods: The module used small groups, led by genetics faculty and members of the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation, for discussion of case examples. The medical students' knowledge of and attitudes toward cancer and predictive genetic testing were assessed by a pretest and a posttest.
Results: After the module, knowledge scores increased by 27%, and significant changes were seen in the students' attitudes toward issues such as the regulation of testing availability and the psychological effect of testing. Most students consistently felt that predictive genetic testing is beneficial, that they would have the testing themselves, that genetic counseling should be required for testing, and that insurers' access to genetic testing results should be limited. Overall, the module was received favorably by all participants.
Conclusions: Small-group discussion of relevant case examples increases knowledge and awareness of issues regarding presymptomatic genetic testing for breast cancer.