Background: The use of commercially available tests for genes linked to familial cancer has aroused concern about the impact of these tests on patients. Familial adenomatous polyposis is an autosomal dominant disease caused by a germ-line mutation of the adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) gene that causes colorectal cancer if prophylactic colectomy is not performed. We evaluated the clinical use of commercial APC gene testing.
Methods: We assessed indications for APC gene testing, whether informed consent was obtained and genetic counseling was offered before testing, and the interpretation of the results through telephone interviews with physicians and genetic counselors in a nationwide sample of 177 patients from 125 families who underwent testing during 1995.
Results: Of the 177 patients tested, 83.0 percent had clinical features of familial adenomatous polyposis or were at risk for the disease-both valid indications for being tested. The appropriate strategy for presymptomatic testing was used in 79.4 percent (50 of 63 patients). Only 18.6 percent (33 of 177) received genetic counseling before the test, and only 16.9 percent (28 of 166) provided written informed consent. In 31.6 percent of the cases the physicians misinterpreted the test results. Among the patients with unconventional indications for testing, the rate of positive results was only 2.3 percent (1 of 44).
Conclusions: Patients who underwent genetic tests for familial adenomatous polyposis often received inadequate counseling and would have been given incorrectly interpreted results. Physicians should be prepared to offer genetic counseling if they order genetic tests.