Survey: cancer patients missing out on much-needed genetic testing

By Jenni Spinner

- Last updated on GMT

(koto_feja/iStock via Getty Images Plus)
(koto_feja/iStock via Getty Images Plus)

Related tags Cancer Oncology Genetic testing Clinical trial Patient centricity Precision medicine

According to patient-matching specialist TrialJectory, 90% of cancer patients know the vitality of genetic testing but more than half are not being tested.

TrialJectory, a company that offers an artificial intelligence-based platform connecting cancer patients to research, has announced results from a survey on cancer patients and genetic testing. According to the responses, while the majority of those surveyed (90%) know that genetic testing is useful in improving clinical outcomes, under half of them (46%) have reported undergoing next-generation sequencing (NGS), used to identify cancer mutations and familiar cancer mutation carriers.

Tzvia Bader, TrialJectory CEO and co-founder, spoke with Outsourcing-Pharma about the power of precision medicine, the usefulness of genetic testing in cancer treatment, and how these barriers to necessary testing might be lifted.

OSP: Could you talk about the recent history of genetic testing, especially as it relates to cancer treatment/diagnostics?

TB: Historically NGS testing was used to inform complex treatment decisions for cancer patients. This approach, which is also referred to as ‘precision' or ‘personalized medicine’ focuses on identifying which treatments will be effective for which patients based on their genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.

However, it is increasingly important for patients to utilize the capabilities of NGS testing to take full advantage of today’s precision medicine and improve outcomes.

OSP: As you point out, there’s a gap between patients who are interested in, and understand the usefulness of, genetic testing and NGS specifically. Could you please share some of the reasons for that gap?

TB: First, it's important to note that according to the U.S. National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Guidelines - all cancer patients should undergo NGS testing​. However, in a recent survey of cancer patients, only 46% reported having undergone NGS testing, and 90% of these patients understand the importance of genetic testing when it comes to improving clinical outcomes. And there’s the gap.

OSP: Similarly, you talk about the ‘artificial’ barriers standing between cancer patients and genetic testing—could you please share why these are artificial obstacles, and how to remove them?

TB: When we talk about ‘artificial barriers’ we’re referencing the potential reasons why patients do not receive NGS testing as a standard practice. One of the primary barriers is physician bandwidth. Even before the pandemic, the doctor’s time with the patient was limited. Post-COVID, these same doctors are managing a backlog of cancer patients that were forced to put testing and treatment on hold further reducing their availability.

A second barrier is the trend among physicians to focus primarily on the standard-of-care treatment plan. Based on their experience and the speed at which they can get a program started, many doctors don’t consider new treatment pathways, including clinical trials, and therefore don’t see a need to recommend NGS testing. On top of that, healthcare insurance does not cover genetic testing for some cancer types - making it even more of a challenge for patients.

I will say in closing that there is an assumption that the doctor knows about every available treatment option for each of their patients. If you take a step back, that assumption is just unrealistic - and quite frankly, humanly impossible.

We’re starting to see a shift in this thinking among cancer patients who are taking more of a leadership role in their healthcare decisions. This increased level of involvement should and does include a request to receive NGS testing.  With more information, a cancer patient has access to more treatment options which can improve their clinical outcome. 

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